Wednesday, March 18, 2009

"The Blessing" - John Updike

The room darkened, darkened until
our nakedness became a form of gray;
then the rain came bursting,
and we were sheltered, blessed,
upheld in a world of elements
that held us justified.
In all the love I had felt for you before,
in all that love,
there was no love
like that I felt when the rain began:
dim room, enveloping rush,
the slenderness of your throat,
the bless├Ęd slenderness.

-----

It's the birthday of John Updike, (books by this author) born in Shillington, Pennsylvania (1932). He was an only child, and he said, "I'm sure that my capacity to fantasize and to make coherent fantasies, to have the patience to sit down day after day and to whittle a fantasy out of paper, all that relates to being an only child."

His father lost his job during the Great Depression, and the family moved into a farm house 11 miles out of town. So Updike spent much of his childhood alone, reading or living in a dream world. He read The New Yorker magazine every week, and while he was still in high school, he began sending his cartoons, poems, and stories to The New Yorker. Even though everything was rejected, he kept submitting to them. He won a scholarship to Harvard, and when he was a senior, The New Yorker finally accepted his work, and after he graduated the magazine offered him a job.

But he didn't enjoy living in New York City, and he realized that he was a small-town boy. So he moved with his wife to a small town outside of Boston, and he supported his family by writing short stories about middle-class, white Protestant families. He said that his early stories "were written on a manual typewriter ... in a one-room office ... between a lawyer and a beautician, above a cozy corner restaurant. ... My only duty was to describe reality as it had come to me — to give the mundane its beautiful due."

He wrote in detail about the love lives of his characters. Other writers, like Henry Miller or D.H. Lawrence, had written explicitly about sex, but they wrote mostly about bohemian characters. Updike wrote about the sex lives of ordinary suburban Americans.

His novels got mixed reviews — many critics objected to the explicit sexual descriptions. He said: "The artistic challenge to me, as I saw it in the late '50s and mid-'60s, was to try to describe sex honestly as a human transaction, as a human event, and try to place it on the continuum of the personality, to write about it freely but not necessarily as an endorsement of sex. I don't think sex really needs an endorsement."

He published more than 20 novels, and more than 20 collections of short stories. He is best known for his Rabbit books: Rabbit, Run (1960), Rabbit Redux (1971), Rabbit Is Rich (1981), and Rabbit at Rest (1990). Rabbit is Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom, a former high school basketball star who becomes a used car salesman.

John Updike died just a couple of months ago from lung cancer, on January 27, 2009. He was 76 years old.

Monday, March 2, 2009

"Sleeping Next to the Man on the Plane" - Ellen Bass

I'm not well. Neither is he.
Periodically he pulls out a handkerchief
and blows his nose. I worry
about germs, but appreciate how he shares
the armrest,— especially
considering his size—too large
to lay the tray over his lap.
His seatbelt barely buckles. At least
he doesn't have to ask for an extender
for which I imagine him grateful. Our upper arms
press against each other, like apricots growing
from the same node. My arm is warm
where his touches it. I close my eyes.
In the chilly, oxygen-poor air, I am glad
to be close to his breathing mass.
We want our own species. We want
to lie down next to our own kind.
Even here in this metal encumbrance, hurtling
improbably 30,000 feet above the earth,
with all this civilization—, down
to the chicken-or-lasagna in their
environmentally-incorrect packets,
even as the woman behind me is swiping
her credit card on the phone embedded
in my headrest and the folks in first
are watching their individual movies
on personal screens, I lean
into this stranger, seeking primitive comfort—
heat, touch, breath—as we slip
into the ancient vulnerability of sleep.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

"April 5, 1974" - Richard Wilbur

The air was soft, the ground still cold.
In the dull pasture where I strolled
Was something I could not believe.
Dead grass appeared to slide and heave,
Though still too frozen-flat to stir,
And rocks to twitch, and all to blur.
What was this rippling of the land?
Was matter getting out of hand
And making free with natural law?
I stopped and blinked, and then I saw
A fact as eerie as a dream,
There was a subtle flood of steam
Moving upon the face of things.
It came from standing pools and springs
And what of snow was still around;
It came of winter's giving ground
So that the freeze was coming out,
As when a set mind, blessed by doubt,
Relaxes into mother-wit.
Flowers, I said, will come of it.