Feb. 28, 2010

Ground Waters

by Alison Apotheker

Yesterday, in snow's rare visit to this city,
my son and I raised his first snowman.
As we rolled the white boulders of its body
my pregnant belly nudged up against them like kin.

By evening, its body leaned to the left so impossibly
I kept checking the window for its collapse.
In the morning, even more so, the body straining
groundward as if to grasp the carrot nose
that had fallen and lay now half-covered in slush.

My son, who hasn't yet been around the block
with gravity, suspects nothing. I remember
last summer when he skinned his shin on the sidewalk.
I watched his eyes register the body's betrayal.
Yet he seems not to notice the snowman's state,
the degree of recline, how little it would take
to return it to an idea of itself.

All over the neighborhood,
snowmen assume such inspired angles,
splayed skywards as if in appeal to their place of origin,
kneeling for their own beheadings,
canted in prayer, tipsy
with the song of their own slow-going.

The relief obvious in their frozen hulking masses
to rejoin the fluid grace of ground waters.
The truth is: before I became a mother,
I knew the body's longing to be lost.
An untrustworthy lover bound
to forsake us, I'd rather do the leaving
than be left.

But now, as we walk home in the dusk,
my two-year old riding my hip,
patting my cheeks with his mittened hands,
I never want to leave this earth.
Inside the baby tumbles and reels,
already knowing where the body will take us,
that we have no choice but to follow its lead.

"Ground Waters" by Alison Apotheker, from Slim Margin. © Word Press, 2008. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of the novelist who won last year's National Book Award for his book Let the Great World Spin (2009), Colum McCann, (books by this author) born in Dublin (1965). It's a prize they've been giving out for 60 years, but he's only the third non-American-born writer to receive the National Book Award.

He grew up in suburban Dublin in a house full of books — it included everything Dylan Thomas ever wrote — and went to grade school not far from where Samuel Beckett was born. When he was 17, he went to (what was at the time) Ireland's only journalism school, wrote an article on abused homeless women in Dublin, and won a Young Journalist of the Year Award for it.

He spent the summer he was 19 in New York City, awestruck. He returned to Ireland, was assigned to write a gossip column at an evening newspaper, and got restless. When he was 21, he headed back to the States with the intention of writing the great Irish-American novel. He made it to Cape Cod, bought a typewriter, and spent a summer trying to write profound things. But at the end of the summer, he had not written an entire single page, and he couldn't even comprehend the few sentences that he'd tried to write. He decided he needed to go out and explore America, to add a different set of experiences to his young life.

So he hopped on a bicycle and pedaled across the country for a year and a half, winding through 40 states and traversing 12,000 miles on two wheels. It was different from the America he had learned about from Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady he said, "and just as fantastic." He said, "I didn't get a novel out of it, but I got a whole lifetime of stories."

He went back to college in Texas, got married, and moved with his wife to Japan where she studied Japanese and he sat and wrote, in what he called "a sort of vacuum" of "good silence." He finished a story collection and began his first published novel, Songdogs. He and his wife moved to New York City, the setting of his sixth novel, Let the Great World Spin.

It begins with an account of the real-life tightrope-walking act of Philippe Petit, who one day in 1974 strung wire between the 140-foot gap of the World Trade Center's Twin Towers, nearly 1,400 feet up in the air — about a quarter mile above the streets of Manhattan — and walked across. McCann said his novel is a "pretty straightforward allegory of 9/11." The book weaves together the stories of 10 New York protagonists — including prostitutes, Park Avenue mothers, and a youthful Irish monk. At the beginning of Let the Great World Spin, McCann writes about the Twin Tower-tightrope-walk: "It was the dilemma of the watchers: they didn't want to wait around for nothing at all, some idiot standing on the precipice of the towers, but they didn't want to miss the moment either, if he slipped, or got arrested, or dove, arms stretched."

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




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