Apr. 2, 2013


by Stephen Dunn

Fifteen years ago I found my father's
    in the family attic, so used
       the shoemaker had to
repair it, and I kept it like love

until it couldn't be kept anymore.
    Then my father-in-law died
       and I got his, almost
identical, just the wrong initials

embossed in gold. It's forty years old,
    falling apart, soon
       there'll be nothing
that smells of father-love and that difficulty

of living with fathers, but I'd prefer
    a paper bag to those
       new briefcases
made for men living fast-forward

or those attaché cases that match
    your raincoat and spring open
       like a salute
and a click of heels. I'm going

to put an ad in the paper, "Wanted:
    Old briefcase, accordion style,"
       and I won't care
whose father it belonged to

if it's brown and the divider keeps
    things on their proper side.
       Like an adoption
it's sure to feel natural before long—

a son without a father, but with this
    one briefcase carrying
       a replica
comfortably into the future,

something for an empty hand, sentimental
    the way keeping is
       sentimental, for keep-
sake, with clarity and without tears.

"Briefcases" by Stephen Dunn, from New and Selected Poems 1974-1994. © Norton, 1994. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of the fairy tale writer Hans Christian Andersen (books by this author), born in Odense, Denmark (1805), the son of an illiterate mother and a poor cobbler. He trained for the ballet, the stage and the opera, but when all of that failed, he settled on becoming a poet. His first novel gained him enough success that he was able to afford to travel, which would become his life-long passion. He left Denmark on thirty different trips, spending twenty years abroad, travelling as far as Constantinople. He was great self-promoter and befriended practically everyone of importance in Europe—artists, musicians, scientists, politicians and royalty. He wrote six novels and several travel books, thirty-five plays and a hundred and seventy-five fairy tales including "The Little Mermaid," "The Princess and the Pea," "The Emperor's New Clothes," "Thumbelina," and "The Ugly Duckling." He remained forever true to his humble background and believed status should be the right of everyone and not the privilege of the aristocracy.

Today is the birthday of Giacomo Casanova (books by this author), born in Venice (1725), the famous libertine. A compulsive gambler and restless man, he never settled into one occupation before tiring of it and moving on to the next thing — he earned a law degree, was a scribe to a Cardinal in Rome, joined the military, played violin in the theater, posed as an alchemist, translated the Iliad, spied for the government, and was a librarian. But he is best remembered for seducing many women, which he wrote about in his 12 volume, 3,500 page autobiography, The Story of My Life.

Casanova wrote: "I loved, I was loved, my health was good, I had a great deal of money, and I spent it, I was happy and I confessed it to myself."

Today is the birthday of Émile Zola (books by this author), born in Paris (1840). He was inspired by reading Charles Darwin to try to apply scientific principles of observation to the practice of writing fiction. The result was a 20-novel cycle, a kind of fictional documentary about the influence of heredity and environment on an extended family. It was called Les Rougon-Macquart. Some of the novels of the cycle include The Drunkard (1877), Nana (1880), and Germinal (1885).

Zola said, "One forges one's style on the terrible anvil of daily deadlines....The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without work."

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




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