Dec. 20, 2012

Gifts that keep on giving

by Marge Piercy

You know when you unwrap them:
fruitcake is notorious. There were only
51 of them baked in 1917 by the
personal chef of Rasputin. The mad monk
ate one. That was what finally killed him

But there are many more bouncers:
bowls green and purple spotted like lepers.
Vases of inept majolica in the shape
of wheezing frogs or overweight lilies.
Sweaters sized for Notre Dame's hunchback.

Hourglasses of no use humans
can devise. Gloves to fit three-toed sloths.
Mufflers of screaming plaid acrylic.
Necklaces and pins that transform
any outfit to a thrift shop reject.

Boxes of candy so stale and sticky
the bonbons pull teeth faster than
your dentist. Weird sauces bought
at warehouse sales no one will ever
taste unless suicidal or blind.

Immortal as vampires, these gifts
circulate from birthdays to Christmas,
from weddings to anniversaries.
Even if you send them to the dump,
they resurface, bobbing up on the third

day like the corpses they call floaters.
After all living have turned to dust
and ashes, in the ruins of cities
alien archeologists will judge our
civilization by these monstrous relics.

"Gifts that keep on giving" by Marge Piercy, from The Hunger Moon. © Knopf, 2012. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today we celebrate the birthday of Russian writer Yevgenia Ginzburg (books by this author), who was probably born on this day in Moscow (1904). She was a teacher and a journalist, and when she was 32, she was arrested in an anti-Communist roundup; her husband and parents were also arrested. Ginzburg was sentenced as an "enemy of the people," and she spent the next 18 years in prison, forced labor, or exile — 10 years were spent in a labor camp in remote Siberia. She survived to write memoirs of her time in the gulag, Journey into the Whirlwind (1967) and Within the Whirlwind (1979). They were published abroad, but Ginzburg died in Moscow in 1977, 12 years before her books were finally published in the Soviet Union.

It's the birthday of playwright John Fletcher (books by this author), born in Rye, England (1579). He wrote for the King's Men, the acting troupe that produced Shakespeare's works.

Fletcher collaborated with Shakespeare on Henry VIII and The Two Noble Kinsmen, and the lost play Cardenio is attributed to Shakespeare and Fletcher in the Stationers' Register. After Shakespeare's death, Fletcher took over as the chief playwright for the King's Men. He wrote a sequel to Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew called The Woman's Prize, or The Tamer Tamed. In The Woman's Prize, Katherine has died, and Petruchio is remarried to an even stronger woman, Maria, who refuses to sleep with him when he tries to tame her — Maria happily pursues her own scholarship and flirts with his friends. During the Restoration era, later in the 17th century, it was more popular than The Taming of the Shrew.

When Fletcher died during the plague epidemic, nine years after Shakespeare, he had achieved a similar level of fame; but by the 18th century, his fame was eclipsed by Shakespeare and some of his other contemporaries.

It's the birthday of fiction writer Hortense Calisher (books by this author), born in New York City (1911). Her father was Southern, and she said he had "a towering pride in his Jewishness and in his southernness." He made his money manufacturing soap and perfume, and even though Calisher grew up during the Depression, she felt comfortable, surrounded by books and music. She started writing in journals when she was seven, but she didn't try to publish anything until she was almost 40. She sent some stories to The New Yorker, and they published five of them.

She published her first novel, False Entry (1961), at the age of 50 — it was 600 pages long. After that, she turned out book after book, 23 novels and short-story collections in all. She was 90 years old when she published her final novel, Sunday Jews (2002), and two years later, she published a memoir, Tattoo for a Slave (2004).

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




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