Oct. 26, 2010

Your Punishment in Hell

by Gary Leising

Someone will douse a cobra in gasoline,
light the sucker, and shove it headfirst
down your throat. It'll speed straight
through your esophagus, unfurl
its hood to fill your stomach
then begin to strike and strike and strike
and strike and strike: fangs pierce
your stomach, venom pours in,
the little burn of incipient ulcers
grows quick, paralysis sets in.
Your lungs stop before your brain,
before your hand, which lifts
to your mouth the plastic-lidded
paper cup holding the caramel
macchiato cappuccino with a double
shot of espresso and frothed soy milk
topped with two shakes of cinnamon
and no, NO (yes, you said no twice)
sugar that was made for you
slowly, while I, already running late,
waited behind you for a simple,
already-made black coffee.
You will lose all motion before
that drink reaches your mouth,
but you recover and the drink,
strangely, has vanished, and barrista
and cobra-douser-slash-lighter do it all again
and again. I know this because,
for my angry impatience,
I am behind you in line in hell
forever, the pot of black coffee
behind the counter steaming,
turning, I know, bitter.

"Your Punishment in Hell" by Gary Leising from Fastened to a Dying Animal. © Pudding House Press, 2010. Reprinted with permission.

It's the birthday of poet Andrew Motion, (books by this author) born in London (1952), whose collections include The Pleasure Steamers (1977), Secret Narratives (1983), Dangerous Play (1984), Natural Causes (1987), Love in a Life (1991), Salt Water (1997), A Long Story (2001), and Public Property (2002). From 1999 until last year, he was Britain's poet laureate.

While a student at Oxford, he studied poetry in one-on-one tutorials with W.H. Auden, which he said was "like spending an hour each week in the presence of God." He published his own first volume of poetry at the age of 24, and he got a job teaching English at the University of Hull, where the librarian was poet Philip Larkin. They became good friends. After Larkin's death in 1985, Motion wrote an award-winning biography of Larkin.

He gets up early and says that he writes each morning from six o'clock until nine or ten, and that he considers this "sacred time." He said, "If I can carry without spilling whatever it is that drips into my head in the night to my desk, then that's valuable."

He said: "My poems are the product of a relationship between a side of my mind which is conscious, alert, educated and manipulative, and a side which is as murky as a primeval swamp [...] I want my writing to be as clear as water. No ornate language; very few obvious tricks. I want readers to be able to see all the way down through its surfaces into the swamp. I want them to feel they're in a world they thought they knew, but which turns out to be stranger, more charged, more disturbed than they realized."

He's the author of a novel The Invention of Dr. Cake (2003), inspired by the life of John Keats, and a memoir, In the Blood (2006). His most recent book of poems came out last year; it's called The Cinder Path (2009).

It's the birthday of president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, born on this day in 1959 in Orinoca, Bolivia. He's the leader of Movement for Socialism, a political party devoted to closing the gap between rich and poor by passing land reform laws — and also laws that redistribute profits made from drilling in Bolivia's natural gas reserves. He was elected president in December of 2005 and re-elected in December 2009.

He spent his childhood as a migrant laborer, harvesting sugar and herding llamas, and was leader of the Coca Growers Union when he was elected. He's not married, and his older sister acts as first lady. He doesn't wear suits and ties, instead showing up to meetings with world leaders in a striped sweater. On his 100th day in office, which was May Day 2005, he nationalized all of the natural gas fields, including fields owned by BP and ExxonMobil.

There's a documentary out about him; it's called On the Road with Evo (2006).


It's the anniversary of the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825. It was built to connect the Atlantic Ocean with the Great Lakes. The canal was 360 miles long, 40 feet wide, and four feet deep — just deep enough to float barges carrying 30 tons of freight.

It was on this day in 1900 that Henry James wrote his first letter to the budding novelist Edith Wharton, beginning a long friendship. Wharton (books by this author) was an admirer of James's (books by this author) work, and she sent him one of the first short stories she ever wrote, about a young woman in Europe. He wrote back to say that he liked the story but he also said, "Be tethered in native pastures, even if it reduces [you] to a back-yard in New York." His advice inspired her to write about the New York society she'd grown up in, and the result was The House of Mirth (1905), which became her first big success.

It's the birthday of the novelist Pat Conroy, (books by this author) born in Atlanta (1945), whose mother read him Gone with the Wind and told him stories about her aristocratic ancestors, even though she never had any. He said, "She was poor white trash who spent her whole life denying it as bitterly and vehemently as she could ... [she] was really the first fiction writer in the family." Conroy went on to write a series of best-selling novels about dysfunctional Southern families, including The Great Santini (1976) and The Prince of Tides (1986).

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




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