Apr. 11, 2013


by Stephen Dunn

The year I owned a motorcycle and split the air
in southern Spain, and could smell the oranges
in the orange groves as I passed them
outside of Seville, I understood
I'd been riding too long in cars,
probably even should get a horse,
become a high-up, flesh-connected thing
among the bulls and cows.
My brand-new wife had a spirit
that worried and excited me, a history
of moving on. Wine from a spigot for pennies,
langostinas and angulas, even the language
felt dangerous in my mouth. Mornings,
our icebox bereft of ice,
I'd speed on my motorcycle to the iceman's house,
strap a big rectangular block
to the extended seat where my wife often sat
hot behind me, arms around my waist.
In the streets the smell of olive oil,
the noise of men torn between church
and sex, their bodies taut, heretical.
And the women, buttoned-up,
or careless, full of public joy, a Jesus
around their necks.
Our neighbors showed us how to shut down
in the afternoon,
the stupidity of not respecting the sun.
They forgave us who we were.
Evenings we'd take turns with the Herald Tribune
killing mosquitoes, our bedroom walls bloody
in this country known for blood;
we couldn't kill enough.
When the Levante, the big wind, came out of Africa
with its sand and heat, disturbing things,
it brought with it a lesson, unlearnable,
of how far a certain wildness can go.
Our money ran out. I sold the motorcycle.
We moved without knowing it
to take our quieter places in the world.

"Wild" by Stephen Dunn, from What Goes On. © Norton, 2009. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Marguerite de Navarre (books by this author), born in Angoulême, France, in 1492. The daughter of a count and a mother with high aspirations for her children, Marguerite learned Latin, Spanish, Hebrew, and Italian and read philosophy and the Scriptures.

Her younger brother, Francis, became the King of France. He had always looked up to his big sister, and he asked her to join his court to provide counsel and advice. She did, advising her brother on diplomatic affairs and why he should employ Leonardo da Vinci and Benvenuto Cellini at the royal court, and why he should try to reform the Catholic Church. She tried to mediate the religious conflict between Catholics and Protestants, and to protect reformers like John Calvin — even though she didn't agree with him.

It's the birthday of writer Dorothy Allison (books by this author), born in Greenville, South Carolina (1949) to an unwed 15-year-old who'd dropped out of seventh grade and worked as a waitress. Allison grew up desperately poor, and was sexually abused by her stepfather. But she was inspired by the confidence her teachers and classmates had in her intelligence. 'Because they did not see poverty and hopelessness as a foregone conclusion for my life,' she wrote, 'I could begin to imagine other futures for myself.'

She won a National Merit Scholarship and was the first person in her family to attend college. There, in the late '60s, she was introduced to the Feminist movement, which she said 'was like opening your eyes under water. It hurt, but suddenly everything that had been dark and mysterious became visible and open to change.' She wrote a memoir about her childhood and family history, Two or Three Things I Know for Sure (1995), but it is her earlier novel, Bastard Out of Carolina (1992), that she's best known for.

Allison said, 'People want biography. People want memoir. They want you to tell them that the story you're telling them is true. The thing I'm telling you is true, but it did not always happen to me.'

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




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