Jan. 6, 2012

Staying at Grandma's

by Jane Kenyon

Sometimes they left me for the day
while they went — what does it matter
where — away. I sat and watched her work
the dough, then turn the white shape
yellow in a buttered bowl.

A coleus, wrong to my eye because its leaves
were red, was rooting on the sill
in a glass filled with water and azure
marbles. I loved to see the sun
pass through the blue.

"You know," she'd say, turning
her straight and handsome back to me,
"that the body is the temple
of the Holy Ghost."

The Holy Ghost, the oh, oh ... the uh
oh, I thought, studying the toe of my new shoe,
and glad she wasn't looking at me.

Soon I'd be back in school. No more mornings
at Grandma's side while she swept the walk
or shook the dust mop by the neck.

If she loved me why did she say that
two women would be grinding at the mill,
that God would come out of the clouds
when they were least expecting him,
choose one to be with him in heaven
and leave the other there alone?

"Staying at Grandma's" by Jane Kenyon, from Let Evening Come. © Graywolf Press, 1990. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today is the birthday of E.L. Doctorow (books by this author), born in New York City in 1931. His first novel, Welcome to Hard Times (1960), was a satire of the Western genre, and his second, Big as Life (1966) — which he called the worst thing he's ever done — was science fiction. It was his third novel, The Book of Daniel (1971), that put him on the literary map. It won the National Book Award. Ragtime, which followed in 1975, was a best-seller and, he claimed, the easiest book he ever wrote.

His latest novel is Homer and Langley (2009). It's based on the true story of two brothers, the Collyers, who lived in a Harlem mansion and gradually shut out society after the death of their parents, becoming reclusive hoarders of 180 tons of assorted junk. The brothers died in 1947; Langley was crushed by an avalanche of their stuff, and Homer, who was blind and paralyzed, starved to death. Doctorow didn't do any research for the book, but rather relied on his own memories; growing up in New York, everyone knew about the Collyers. "I wasn't the only teenager of the time whose mother looked in his room and said, 'My God, it's the Collyers'!"

Once, asked about his writing routine, Doctorow said: "Here's how it goes: I'm up at the stroke of 10 or 10:30. I have breakfast and read the papers, and then it's lunchtime. Then maybe a little nap after lunch and out to the gym, and before I know it, it's time to have a drink."

Today is the birthday of Barry Lopez (books by this author). He was born in Port Chester, New York (1945), and grew up in Southern California and New York City. He's written several books of nonfiction, which often deal with the relationship between human culture and the physical landscape, like Arctic Dreams (1986) and Of Wolves and Men (1978). He also writes fiction; his most recent novel is Resistance (2004).

Lopez wrote, "Everything is held together with stories. That is all that is holding us together, stories and compassion."

It's the birthday of novelist Elizabeth Strout (books by this author), born in Portland, Maine (1956), to a family that had lived in that state for eight generations. Her her first novel, Amy and Isabelle (1998), was made into a TV movie by Oprah Winfrey. Her collection of linked short stories, Olive Kitteridge (2008), won the Pulitzer Prize, as well as Italy's Premio Bancarella award. She's the first American author to win that prize since Ernest Hemingway. In between those two books, she wrote a best-seller, Abide With Me (2006).

Strout said: "I write pieces, and move them around. And the fun of it is watching the truthful parts slide together. What is false won't fit."

Today is the birthday of poet Khalil Gibran (books by this author), born in the mountain village in Bsharri, Lebanon (1883). He lived in Boston, and that was where Alfred A. Knopf met him, who published Gibran's book The Prophet in 1923. It didn't sell well at first, but gradually gained a readership, becoming especially popular in the 1960s; it was eventually translated into more than 30 languages. Gibran is now the third-best-selling poet in history, after William Shakespeare and Lao-Tzu.

The Prophet is often quoted at weddings ("Love one another, but make not a bond of love: / Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls"), and baptisms ("Your children are not your children. / They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself. / They come through you but not from you, / And though they are with you they belong not to you"), and funerals ("When you are sorrowful look again in / your heart, and you shall see that in truth / you are weeping for that which has been / your delight").

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




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