Apr. 11, 2010

At the Mystic Aquarium

by Patricia Fargnoli

Still sun blind, I wheel your chair
through the darkened room
to the largest tank, where hammerheads swim
in the aquamarine glow, the torpedo of their bodies
sleeking past you beyond the glass.
Wanting respite from the heavy pushing,
wanting unburdened time to take in
the small brilliant lives of darting reef fish,
for once, I leave you, brake on and safe.
But when I turn away into the milling crowd,
it is I who fall—only a few feet from you, tripping
over a small girl, my body old, heavy,
coming down on her, her arms flailing,
trying to fight it back.
She lets out a cry that rips straight through
and her mother snatches her up, snaps at me in anger.
Sorry. Sorry. I say again and again
as I try with no luck to struggle to my feet,
straining against the dark and the gravity,
thinking how hard it is to rise
from the downthrust of weight and age,
aware of shame's bloodrush, tears beginning
as if I were the hurt child, the one who needed saving.
Suddenly I hate your wheelchair,
the knees that will not hold you, your blocked heart.
I want you here at my elbow, your hand pulling me up,
your arm gripping my shoulder, comforts in my ear.
But you've never even noticed, hooked as you are
to the aqua light, flashing points of the teeth,
the flat implacable eyes.

"At the Mystic Aquarium" by Patricia Fargnoli, from Necessary Light. © Utah State University Press, 1999. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of poet Mark Strand, (books by this author) born in Summerside, Prince Edward Island (1934).

He said, "A poem releases itself, secretes itself slowly, sometimes almost poisonously, into the mind of the reader."

It's the birthday of columnist Ellen Goodman, (books by this author) born on this day in Newton, Massachusetts (1941). She worked as a researcher for Newsweek magazine, when all of the writers there were men. But she got a job as a reporter in Detroit, then for The Boston Globe, where she started writing a column in 1974. It was syndicated in 1976, eventually picked up by more than 300 newspapers. She wrote about domestic life, personal relationships, gender issues, and cultural changes over the decades. She just wrote her last column at the beginning of this year.

It's the birthday of writer and humorist Leo Rosten, (books by this author) born in Lodz, in what is now Poland, in 1908. He grew up in Chicago, went to the University of Chicago and the London School of Economics, but still wasn't sure what to do with his life. He worked for a while teaching English to adults in night school, and wrote critical essays and sold them to magazines like Harper's. But then his wife, Priscilla Ann Mead (Margaret Mead's sister), contracted pneumonia and appendicitis, and they needed more money to pay her medical bills. So he decided to try writing humorous pieces, which were published in The New Yorker, and soon everyone thought of him as a humorist.

He published a book of his humorous sketches, which were based on his experience teaching new immigrants at the night school. The book, The Education of H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N (1937), was a huge success, praised by everyone from Evelyn Waugh and P.G. Wodehouse to the Nurses Association of America, who wrote Rosten to tell him that he should put a warning label on it so that their patients who read it didn't burst their stitches from laughing so hard.

He published several more humorous books, including The Joys of Yiddish (1968), also a best-seller — a book that he described as "a relaxed lexicon of Yiddish, Hebrew, and Yinglish words often encountered in English, plus dozens that ought to be." He describes the 20 situations where one should say feh; 19 meanings of Nu? (including "What's the hurry?" and "How are things with you?"); and has entries on oy, chutzpah, mish-mosh, and many more words.

It's the birthday of novelist Dorothy Allison, (books by this author) born in Greenville, South Carolina (1949) to an unwed 15-year-old mother, grew up poor, sexually abused by her stepfather from the age of five. But she became the first person in her family to graduate from high school, went to college on a National Merit Scholarship, embraced the feminist movement and started dating women. She wrote a book of short stories, Trash (1988). In the preface she described herself as a "cross-eyed, working-class lesbian addicted to violence, language, and hope." She talked about her class, her sexuality, her past. Her work was respected, but still only read within a small community.

And then she published her first novel, Bastard Out of Carolina (1992), based on her own life — it was a best-seller, it got great reviews and was a finalist for the National Book Award, and it was made into a movie.

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




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