Jan. 2, 2010

Imagining It

by Kate Barnes

At eighteen, in Paris,
I just woke up out of a dream
just before dawn, and stepped through the long window
from my cold room with its red silk walls.
Shivering a little in my dressing gown,
I leaned on the balustrade
and, look, overnight a light snow had fallen;
no car had driven over it yet, it lay in the street
as white, as innocent, as snow on the open fields.
Then something approached with a calm rhythm
of hoof-beats made softer by the snow, the sound
of a quiet heart. It was a heaped-up wood cart
pulled by a gray horse who walked along slowly,
head down, while the driver
sat at the back of one shaft and hunched over
to light his cigarette.
                                  From above, I saw clearly
the lit match in the old man's cupped hands, its glow
on his long jaw, the small well of flame
between his living palms like the flare
of the soul in his body. He went on
down the street, and the sky went on
growing lighter, and I saw how he left
his dark tracks behind him on the whiteness
of the snow, just the lines of the two wheels,
slightly wavering, and the dints of the horse's hooves
between them, a writing in an undiscovered
language, something whose meaning
we feel sure we know, and still can't quite
                       When I stepped inside again,
I stopped thinking about love for a minute — I thought about it
almost all the time then — and thought instead
about being alive for a while in a world
with cobblestones, new snow, and the unconscious
poem printed by hooves on the maiden street.

Of course I was not yet ready to be grateful.

"Imagining It" by Kate Barnes, from Where the Deer Were. © David R. Goldine, Publisher, Inc., 1994. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of novelist Robert Nathan, (books by this author) born in New York in 1894. He wrote Autumn (1921), a quiet romance about a retired teacher and his housekeeper, set in New England. It was so successful that he wrote about one a year for the rest of his career, more than 40 novels, including his most famous, Portrait of Jennie (1940). He said, "There is no distance on this earth as far away as yesterday."

It's the birthday of André Aciman, (books by this author) born in Alexandria, Egypt (1951). He was Jewish, and during World War II his family had thought they would have to go to a concentration camp. They did not, but after the war there was a lot of anti-Semitism in Egypt. Young Aciman was forced to learn anti-Semitic songs in school, and the family's textile family started losing business. So they left for Europe and eventually America, where Aciman went to school and became a writer. And he wrote a memoir about his childhood, Out of Egypt (1995), which got great reviews and won the Whiting Writers' Award.

It's the birthday of playwright Christopher Durang, (books by this author) born in Montclair, New Jersey (1949). He was raised Roman Catholic, went to a high school where he was taught by monks, and thought he might become a monk himself. Instead, he became a playwright, and when he was 28 years old, he had his first big success with the play Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You (1979), which The New York Times described as "a satire about a demonic Catholic school nun." He went on to write Beyond Therapy (1981), Baby with the Bathwater (1983), and most recently, Why Torture is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them (2009).

It's the birthday of historical novelist Leonard B. Scott, (books by this author) born in Bremerhaven, Germany (1948). He served in the Army for 27 years, was a full colonel, earned a Purple Heart and a Silver Star. And then he started writing novels about the Vietnam War, including Charlie Mike (1985), The Hill (1989), and Solemn Duty (1997).

It's the birthday of science fiction writer Isaac Asimov, (books by this author) born in Petrovichi, Russia, in 1920. His parents moved to Brooklyn when he was three years old, and he helped out in the family candy shop. He was a good student, extremely good at science, and his father encouraged that.

He went off to Columbia and studied chemistry, and when he was 18, he wrote his first science fiction story. He sent it to John Campbell, the editor of a science fiction magazine. Campbell rejected it, but as he said later: "He was lean and hungry and enthusiastic. He couldn't write, but he could tell a story. You can teach a guy how to write, but not how to tell a story." And so Asimov tried again and again, and he learned how to write and would write for 10 hours a day, seven days a week. He went on to write more than 400 books, many of them science fiction, including I, Robot (1950) and Foundation (1951).

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




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
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