Apr. 29, 2010

Waving Goodbye

by Wesley McNair

Why, when we say goodbye
at the end of an evening, do we deny
we are saying it at all, as in We'll
be seeing you, or I'll call, or Stop in,
somebody's always at home? Meanwhile, our friends,
telling us the same things, go on disappearing
beyond the porch light into the space
which except for a moment here or there
is always between us, no matter what we do.
Waving goodbye, of course, is what happens
when the space gets too large
for words a gesture so innocent
and lonely, it could make a person weep
for days. Think of the hundreds of unknown
voyagers in the old, fluttering newsreel
patting and stroking the growing distance
between their nameless ship and the port
they are leaving, as if to promise I'll always
remember, and just as urgently, Always
remember me. Is it loneliness, too,
that makes the neighbor down the road lift
two fingers up from his steering wheel as he passes
day after day on his way to work in the hello
that turns into goodbye? What can our own raised
fingers to for him, locked in his masculine
purposes and speeding away inside the glass?
How can our waving wipe away the reflex
so deep in the woman next door to smile
and wave on her way into her house with the mail,
we'll never know if she is happy
or sad or lost? It can't. Yet in that moment
before she and all the others and we ourselves
turn back to our disparate lives, how
extraordinary it is that we make this small flag
with our hands to show the closeness we wish for
in spite of what pulls us apart again
and again: the porch light snapping off,
the car picking its way down the road through the dark.

"Waving Goodbye" by Wesley McNair from Lovers of the Lost: New & Selected Poems. © David R. Godine, 2010. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

We're celebrating the days leading up to May Day with letters and journal entries about spring.

On this day in 1892, Anton Chekhov (books by this author) wrote a letter to his lover, Lydia Avilov. He said: "Yes, it is nice now in the country, not only nice but positively amazing. It's real spring, the trees are coming out, it is hot. The nightingales are singing, and the frogs are croaking in all sorts of tones. I haven't a halfpenny, but the way I look at it is this: the rich man is not he who has plenty of money, but he who has the means to live now in the luxurious surroundings given us by early spring."

On this day in 1936, while a student at Washington University in St. Louis, playwright Tennessee Williams (books by this author) wrote in his journal: "Lovely music comes up from the radio—a symphony. Night insects are flying in my open window attracted by the light. The W.U. machine shop hums softly across the car-tracks behind the block. I see people moving in lighted windows. The air is very still and warm."

On this day in 1928, the novelist Virginia Woolf (books by this author) wrote to her sister Vanessa: "We are down here for the weekend. It is suddenly full summer; everything is out; the garden blazing with lilac, apple, pear blossom and every flower you can imagine; and the country is far far far away better than Cassis. Really, the downs are astonishing at this moment. [...] But in five years we shall be driven out — there's no doubt of it [...] they say they're going to build 30 cottages at Asheham. Undoubtedly, this country is doomed; but where to go next, I don't know. [...] Won't you migrate to a little terrain somewhere between Tarascon and Uzès, which seemed infinitely lovely, and entirely French, and one had asparagus and truffles, which is my favorite food, for about sixpence? That's my notion of bliss."

It's the birthday of poet C.P. Cavafy, (books by this author) born in Alexandria, Egypt (1863). His parents were Greek, and he wrote his poetry in modern Greek, but lived in Alexandria almost his entire life. In 1889, he got a job as an unpaid clerk at the city's Irrigation Office, and he stayed there until he retired 30 years later. He lived with his mother until he was 36, in an apartment just above a brothel, and across the street from a church and a hospital. Cavafy once said: "Where could I live better? Below, the brothel caters to the flesh. And there is the church which forgives sin. And there is the hospital where we die."

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
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show