Mar. 6, 2012

When I Lost My Hands

by Greg Hewett

When I lost my hands I started wearing gloves,
the kind pallbearers wear,
thin and yellowed.

When I lost my hands I started to stare
at my father lifting his wineglass
like a dancer would a rose,

at my aunt shuffling cards,
brittle veins almost breaking
against the aquamarine on her knuckle,

at my grandfather holding his guitar
not so much like a lover as like a god
who has touched the earth.

When I lost my hands I started to see
how doves fold their wings
over their backs
like hands in prayer.

When I lost my hands I could no longer pray.
When I lost my hands I could no longer speak.

"When I Lost My Hands" by Greg Hewett, from Red Suburb. © Coffee House Press, 2002. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of the novelist who said: "What matters in life is not what happens to you but what you remember and how you remember it." That's Gabriel García Márquez (books by this author), born in Aracataca, Colombia (1927). He grew up with his maternal grandparents. His grandfather was a colonel, a military hero of Colombia's Thousand Days War, and his grandmother was a wonderful storyteller. His grandfather told him stories of the revolution, and his grandmother told stories of ghosts, curses, and magic.

García Márquez studied law at university. During his first year, he read The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. He was so impressed by it that at 8 o'clock the next morning he began reading all the classic literature he could get his hands on, and eventually dropped out of school to work as a journalist, while writing stories on the side.

Just before his 23rd birthday, he traveled back to Aracataca with his mother to help her sell his grandparents' house, and he was inspired by Aracataca to create a fictional town named Macondo, which would become the setting of his epic novel One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967).

In 1985, Márquez published Love in the Time of Cholera, the love story of Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza. Márquez said: "People spend a lifetime thinking about how they would really like to live ... I wish my life could have been like the years when I was writing Love in the Time of Cholera. I would get up at 5:30 or 6 in the morning. I need only six hours of sleep. Then I quickly listened to the news. I would read from 6 to 8, because if I don't read at that time I won't get around to it anymore. I lose my rhythm. Someone would arrive at the house with fresh fish or lobster or shrimp caught nearby. Then I would write from 8 till 1. By midday, Mercedes would go to the beach and wait for me with friends. I never quite knew who to expect; there were always people coming and going. After lunch I had a little siesta. And when the sun started going down I would go out on the street to look for places where my characters would go, to talk to people and pick up language and atmosphere. So the next morning I would have fresh material I had brought from the streets."

Márquez's novels and novellas include The Autumn of the Patriarch (1975), Chronicle of a Death Foretold (1981), and Memories of My Melancholy Whores (2004). He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982.

It's the birthday of writer and humorist Ring Lardner (books by this author), born in Niles, Michigan (1885). He was a sports columnist who wrote about the Cubs and White Sox for the Chicago Tribune, and covered baseball all over the Midwest. He tried to write a column each day, and one day he was desperate for sports news, so he wrote a fictional dialogue between two baseball players playing a poker game, complete with the slang he had heard so many times traveling around with various baseball teams. That column was such a success that he began writing in the voice of a player named Jack Keefe, who sent letters home to his friend Al Blanchard in their hometown in Indiana. The columns were published in the book You Know Me Al (1916).

Ring Lardner wrote, "He looked at me as if I were a side dish he hadn't ordered."

It's the birthday of the soldier and writer Cyrano de Bergerac (books by this author), born in Paris (1619). He was famous in his day for his heroism on the battlefield, his writing, and his wit. He fought in several battles, but after he survived a stab wound in the neck, he decided to study astronomy. He used his studies to write a satirical novel about traveling to the moon, The Government of the World in the Moon (1656). His work influenced future writers of science fiction, but he's best known to us today as the subject of the play Cyrano de Bergerac (1897), by the French playwright Edmond Rostand.

Rostand often wrote plays about historical figures and embellished the details. He read one description of Cyrano de Bergerac that mentioned his nose was large, and Rostand decided to portray him as a romantic, heroic soldier and poet who has to overcome the embarrassment of having an incredibly huge nose. Rostand also learned that Cyrano had once written letters for a fellow soldier to help him woo a lady, so Rostand invented a tragic love story in which Cyrano is forced to secretly write letters to Roxanne, the woman he loves, for a fellow soldier. He is only able to confess his love at the end of his life.

The play became a huge hit in France. The audience loved it so much on opening night that the standing ovation lasted for a full hour, with the audience calling back the cast for bows more than 40 times. Cyrano de Bergerac is now one of France's most beloved characters, even if he isn't quite the same person as the real Cyrano de Bergerac.

It's the birthday of poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning (books by this author), born in Durham, England (1806). She published her first successful book of poems at the age of 20, and by the time she published Poems in 1844, she was one of the most popular poets in Britain. That book caused the little-known poet Robert Browning to send her a fan letter; they struck up a passionate correspondence and then a secret courtship. Two years later, they eloped and took off for Italy. Her outraged father disinherited her, but she was happy with Browning, and she went on to publish some of her most beloved poems, including Sonnets from the Portuguese (1850) and Aurora Leigh (1856). She died in 1861 in Browning's arms.

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