Tuesday, March 21, 2017
"The books we enjoy as children stay with us forever," writes Sid Fleischman.
My mother filled my childhood home with books, once spending so much money on them that she angered my father. And she read to my sisters and me, by day and before bedtime. She read our favorites over and over.
We knew MOTHER GOOSE rhymes by the dozens: "Dickory, dickory, dock" or "Rub a dub dub" or "Simple Simon met a pieman."
We graduated to Lewis Carroll's ALICE'S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND with its disappearing Cheshire cat, its argumentative Caterpillar with a hookah, and its Duchess who beat her little boy when he sneezed.
Add to that Irish folk tales by the dozens, plus SIBBY BOTHERBOX, and THE SECRET GARDEN, and FIVE LITTLE PEPPERS AND HOW THEY GREW, novels whose appealing characters and carefully crafted adventures gripped us.
But the book that stayed with us was A. A. Milne's WINNIE-THE-POOH.
Christopher Robin didn't move us, nor Pooh or Piglet or Owl or Kanga and her baby Roo.
The Old Grey Donkey, gloomy Eeyore, did.
When he sighed and said things like "Pathetic. That's what it is. Pathetic" or "Somebody must have taken my tail. How Like Them," we recognized him.
He was our bleak, glum, melancholy mother, Zelma Theola Kemper Coffey.
We promptly dubbed her "Eeyore," a nickname that fit her even to the end of her life.
Thirty-three years ago this month, when she was seventy-eight years old, my mother decided, Eeyore-like, that her weak-boned life—fall, break bones, hospital, therapy, home, fall—was no longer viable.
She refused to eat, and on March 20, 1984, she died of starvation.
Tuesday, March 14, 2017
Most days I don't think about the 30 years I lived in New York City, but some days I do. Like today, when flying through my mailbox came HOWL, 2016! containing poems, rants, and essays on the election of Donald Trump.
I'm not sure that the 65 contributors that editor Trish MacEnulty pulled together for this amazing book are New Yorkers. Some I know aren't. But the book reeks of sharp big city talk from its opening entry by Elisa Albo, an avalanche listing of sexual traumas, to its last entry by Ron Yrabedra and his memory of a burned child.
My favorite, of course, is the piece written by Carole Rosenthal, and not just because we've been friends since the Sixties when we both taught at Pratt Institute. Even then, I admired Carole's imaginative writing.
Her HOWL piece has the longest title in the book: "IN DREAMS BEGIN RESPONSIBILITIES: POST-ELECTION SEQUEL 2016 (thanks for the reminder, Delmore Schwartz)". Why does Carole mention Schwartz? A gifted New York writer, Schwartz is known for his famous story, "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities."
Carole's story opens one evening "lolling on a nubby sofa with friends." It sounds realistic, but not for long. She forgets where she is, "After the Presidential election, it's been hard to locate myself." And we tumble with her into a dream that conveys the confusion and conflicts she feels, as she tries to solve the mystery of where she is and why there are strangers living in her New York apartment now.
At the end of her dream, she finds herself in her apartment, her husband lying "open-mouthed, a fleck of spittle on the corner of his lips."
A bright full moon almost sinks into the cliffs of the Palisades outside her window. "Yet I'm terrified," she writes. "I cannot un-dream reality."
Reality, in this case, being the Trump world we now occupy.
Outside, "the moon keeps sinking."