This morning at breakfast I learned something about my grandfather, who died when I was seven, that I never knew before. I’ve been thinking about him all day now in the light of this knowledge that I didn’t have before, how it recasts the image in my mind and heart of who he was, how he lived, what he loved and what he missed. This poem, which I’ve loved for a long time but never posted, came back to me as I thought, along with a quote from William Faulkner from Light in August: “Man knows so little about his fellows.” Poem of the Week, by Al Zolynas.
The Hat in the Sky
– Al Zolynas
After the war,
after I was born,
my father’s hobby
(perhaps his obsession)
New fathers often become
photographers, it seems.
But he took pictures of many things
as if he suddenly felt it all
and wanted to hold it forever.
In one of the many shoe boxes
full of photographs
in my father’s house,
one photo sticks in my mind,
of a black hat
the kind of hat fashionable in the forties,
a fedora – something
Bogie would wear.
Someone has thrown it
into the air–
perhaps my father himself,
perhaps someone in an exuberant moment
at a rally or gathering.
It’s still there,
hanging in the sky
as ordinary and impossible
as a painting by Magritte,
and it’s impossible
how it wrenches my heart, somehow.
At odd moments in my life,
that hat appears to me
for no discernible reason.
For more information on Al Zolynas, please click here.
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Greetings, all New Englanders who live near Westport, Connecticut!
This quote from E.L. Doctorow has mantra’d me through many a novel:
“It’s like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
Are any of you out there also long-form writers? Have you ever sat down in front of that blank screen and wondered how the hell you’ll ever come up with 100 words, let alone 50,000?
If so, and if you’re anywhere near Westport this Sunday at 2 p.m. (November 1), please come hear my National Novel Writing Month kick-off talk at the Westport Public Library. Free and open to everyone – I’d love to see you there!
For more information, please click here.
A few years ago one of my favorite people and I were having dinner on the rooftop patio of a restaurant, wine for her, a gimlet for me, both of us chattering away. At one point our conversation touched on the topic of suicide, something we both had experience with, and I remember her saying that no matter awful life could be and had been, something in her always wanted to hang around if only to see “what would happen next, ” that even at its worst, life was fundamentally interesting. I told her that my best advice to myself is usually “Wait.” I read this poem today and thought of that night, and my friend. “Trust the hours.”
– Galway Kinnell
Wait, for now.
Distrust everything, if you have to.
But trust the hours. Haven’t they
carried you everywhere, up to now?
Personal events will become interesting again.
Hair will become interesting.
Pain will become interesting.
Buds that open out of season will become lovely again.
Second-hand gloves will become lovely again,
their memories are what give them
the need for other hands. And the desolation
of lovers is the same: that enormous emptiness
carved out of such tiny beings as we are
asks to be filled; the need
for the new love is faithfulness to the old.
Don’t go too early.
You’re tired. But everyone’s tired.
But no one is tired enough.
Only wait a while and listen.
Music of hair,
Music of pain,
music of looms weaving all our loves again.
Be there to hear it, it will be the only time,
most of all to hear,
the flute of your whole existence,
rehearsed by the sorrows, play itself into total exhaustion.
For more information about Galway Kinnell, please click here.
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That 30-pound wonder to the left there, in that tiny photo, is, variously, Sweet Pete, Pete, Petey, Pedro, Peter, and Little Guy. He has been, variously, captivating, surprising, startling, annoying, tiring, and delighting us for 12 years now. He’s one of those dogs you sometimes wish weren’t as smart as he is. I remember, back when we first got him, watching him observe people opening the door to the kitchen, a door that we kept closed in order to keep him out of there. When he thought no one was in the room (I was stealth-sitting in a far corner), he jumped up, braced his front legs on the door, and began batting at the knob with his right paw until presto, the door opened, whereupon he raced into the kitchen and gobbled down an entire cooling rack of oatmeal scotchies in the 2.5 seconds it took me to race in there after him. He has taught himself how to do many, many other things in the intervening years. He can read my mind and I can read his. Right now he’s asleep at my feet, having ascertained the situation: She’s tapping at the thing again. She’s still in her pajamas. In about an hour she’ll put on her jeans and sweatshirt and come at me with the leash. I might as well take a nap until then. When I read this poem by Jack Gilbert, who is one of my favorite poets, I thought, you know what? If we have to come back to this world, coming back as a dog might not be so bad.
– Jack Gilbert
I never thought Michiko would come back
after she died. But if she did, I knew
it would be as a lady in a long white dress.
It is strange that she has returned
as somebody’s Dalmation. I meet
the man walking her on a leash
almost every week. He says good morning
and I stoop down to calm her. He said
once that she was never like that with
other people. Sometimes she is tethered
on their lawn when I go by. If nobody
is around, I sit on the grass. When she
finally quiets, she puts her head in my lap
and we watch each other’s eyes as I whisper
in her soft ears. She cares nothing about
the mystery. She likes it best when
I touch her head and tell her small
things about my days and our friends.
That makes her happy the way it always did.
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For more on Jack Gilbert, please click here.
Dear readers, writers, fellow humans,
I’ll be giving a talk –“The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Writer”– to kick off National Novel-Writing Month on Sunday, November 1, from 2-3 pm at the fabulous Westport Public Library.
I’ve been working on this talk for a long time, maybe 25 years or so, which is coincidentally (or not!) about the same amount of time I’ve been writing novels. It’s a thrill to be speaking at such a hallowed place, and I’d love to meet you there.
Come on, come all, no reservations required.
Dear Chicago readers and friends,
I’ll be reading from my new children’s novel, Firefly Hollow, at the wonderful Anderson’s Bookshop in La Grange, Illinois, this coming Monday, October 20, at 7 pm.
If you’re in the area, please come by. I’d love to see you there.
I found this note in my poetry hut the other day (the poetry public is more demanding than you’d think), went straight to my computer, dug out my favorite Poe poem, printed it out, and stuck it in the poetry hut with a note that read “For the Poe fan!”
Next day, it was gone.
A Dream Within a Dream
– Edgar Allan Poe
Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow:
You are not wrong who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.
I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand–
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep–while I weep!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?
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For more about Edgar Allan Poe, click here.
Dear Northern Californians, if you’re anywhere in the vicinity of Petaluma this coming Sunday, October 11, please come to the fabulous Copperfield’s Books at 4 pm. I’m giving a reading from Firefly Hollow there and I’d love to meet you!