Apr. 20, 2010

Taking Dinner to My Mother

by Burt Kimmelman

My mother sits on the edge of her bed,
a scarf on her head to hide the gray hair
she can no longer manage to dye black,
her flesh falling away from the frame of
her face and shoulders, loosened by the loss
of weight when the body betrays the soul,
when the body's pain forbids all desire.
But tonight she is hungry, and I have

come bearing corned beef and pastrami, bread,
sour pickles and a kasha knish.
I help her to the table in slow, small

steps, a pas de deux we have carried on,
I realize, for almost sixty years, and
I think of how, some time before, I held
my daughter's hands, bent over, as she learned
how to walk the fact of balance, which we
live with until it abandons us and
how my mother, in a photograph, held
me in the same way. Earlier today,

I had stopped at a café and, sitting
still for a moment, looking up from my
book, I watched how, at a nearby table,

a new mother fed her infant daughter,
who sat up in her baby carriage, some
bits of crustless bread held between thumb and
forefinger, while her grandfather talked on,
the smell of her mother's hand mingled with
this first food, a small bird in her nest. At
my mother's table I fix her sandwich
and tell her about her granddaughter who

met a boy for a moment in a flea
market, who is now a first love, but my
mother's eyelids are starting to lower,
her head nodding forward slightly, so I
gather her up and walk her back to her
bed, sit her down and swing her swollen legs
up and then under the covers, turn off
all the lights but one, close and lock the door.

"Taking Dinner to My Mother" by Burt Kimmelman, from As If Free. © Talisman House, 2009. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

In 1841, on this day, the first detective story was published. In his story The Murders in the Rue Morgue, published in Graham's Magazine, Edgar Allan Poe (books by this author) created mystery's first fictional detective, C. Auguste Dupin. The story introduced many of the elements of mysteries that are still popular today: the genius detective, the not-so-smart sidekick, the plodding policeman, and the use of the red herring to lead readers off the track.

It's the birthday of one of the founders of psychiatry, Philippe Pinel, born in Saint-André, France (1745). He studied mathematics, theology, and internal medicine before becoming the chief physician at a Paris insane asylum in 1792. Before Pinel arrived, conditions at the asylum were horrible: Among other things, patients were chained to the walls, and people could pay a fee to come in and watch them.

Pinel put a stop to these practices, as well as misguided treatments like bleeding, purging, and blistering. People generally believed that the insane were possessed by demons, but Pinel argued that they were just under a lot of stress. He started treating patients by talking to them about their problems in intense conversations on a regular basis, which paved the way for modern psychiatric practices.

It's the birthday of Sebastian Faulks, (books by this author) born in Newbury, England (1953). He's one of Britain's best-selling and most popular living novelists. He came from a prestigious family of barristers and judges, and they all hoped he'd become a diplomat. But he aspired to be a taxi driver, until age 15, when he read George Orwell — and then he decided he wanted to be a novelist.

He was going to give up his dream of being a novelist and focus solely on journalism when in 1984 publishers accepted the manuscript for his book A Trick of Light. The novel didn't really do all that well, and it soon went out of print.

He felt he hit his stride with his second novel, published five years after the first and entitled, The Girl at the Lion d'Or (1989). It's set in a French village in the 1930s. After that, he wrote another novel set in France, Birdsong (1993), but about a British soldier in World War I. Birdsong was a huge hit: It sold 3 million copies and still ranks high on surveys of British readers' favorite books.

His other novels include A Fool's Alphabet (1992), Charlotte Gray (1998), On Green Dolphin Street (2001) and Human Traces (2005). A couple years ago, Faulks was commissioned by 007 author Ian Fleming's family to write a new official James Bond novel. Faulks set the story in 1967, the year after Fleming's last book about James Bond was published, in various cities around the world and with a backdrop of the Cold War. He finished the 295-page book in six weeks, and when Devil May Care came out in May 2008, it sold more than 44,000 copies in the first four days, making it Penguin UK's fastest-selling hardcover novel ever.

Sebastian Faulk's most recent book is A Week in December (2009), a satirical novel set in London over the course of seven days in December 2007.

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




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