Feb. 19, 2009

Tossing and Turning

by John Updike

The spirit has infinite facets, but the body
confiningly few sides.
   There is the left,
the right, the back, the belly, and tempting
in-betweens, northeasts and northwests,
that tip the heart and soon pinch circulation
in one or another arm.
   Yet we turn each time
with fresh hope, believing that sleep
will visit us here, descending like an angel
down the angle our flesh's sextant sets,
tilted toward that unreachable star
hung in the night between our eyebrows, whence
dreams and good luck flow.
your ankles. Unclench your philosophy.
This bed was invented by others; know we go
to sleep less to rest than to participate
in the twists of another world.
This churning is our journey.
   It ends,
can only end, around a corner
we do not know
we are turning.

"Tossing and Turning" by John Updike, from Collected Poems 1953-1993. © Alfred A. Knopf, 1993. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of poet and novelist Stephen Dobyns, (books by this author) born in Orange, New Jersey (1941). He heard a jazz album where poems by Walt Whitman, William Carlos Williams, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Langston Hughes were read over jazz music, and he decided to become a poet himself. His books of poems include Cemetery Nights (1987) and Mystery, So Long (2005).

It's the birthday of novelist Amy Tan, (books by this author) born in Oakland, California (1952). Her parents emigrated from China in the 1940s, and she grew up struggling to assimilate with other kids, wishing that she would look less Chinese.

She was working as a freelance writer when she took her mother on a trip to China, and she said, "It was a sense of completeness, like having a mother and a father. I had China and America, and everything was all coming together finally."

She came home and found out that based on two short stories, she had gotten an advance for a book. She quit her freelancing work and spent every day writing in her basement, thinking about her trip to China. In just four months, she had finished The Joy Luck Club (1989), which was a big best-seller. She went on to write The Kitchen God's Wife (1991), The Hundred Secret Senses (1995), The Bonesetter's Daughter (2001), and Saving Fish from Drowning (2005).

It's the birthday of novelist Carson McCullers, (books by this author) born in Columbus, Georgia (1917). She published The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1940) when she was just 23 years old. Her other books include The Member of the Wedding (1946). She said, "I live with the people I create and it has always made my essential loneliness less keen."

It's the birthday of novelist Jonathan Lethem, (books by this author) born in New York City (1964). His parents were bohemian idealists who stayed in their Brooklyn neighborhood even as most white families moved away, and there were only a handful of other white kids in Jonathan's school. He grew up, dropped out of college, worked in bookstores, and became a novelist. He decided to write a novel based on his own childhood, a story about a white kid named Dylan and a black kid named Mingus growing up together in Brooklyn in the 1970s. The two friends find a magic ring that gives them superhero powers. That novel was The Fortress of Solitude (2003).

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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