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Posts Tagged ‘parents’

The Bed

October 13, 2016 | by

Photo: Magrethe Mather (1927).

Photo: Magrethe Mather, 1927.

Catherine Bowman’s poem “The Bed” first appeared in our Winter 1988 issue. Her latest collection is Can I Finish, Please?Read More »

Say It with Shoes, and Other News

October 5, 2016 | by

A mark of distinction, and maybe also love.

  • If you’re having trouble focusing, and meditation hasn’t helped, and Adderall hasn’t helped, and whispering “focus, focus, focusssss…” to yourself hasn’t helped, you might try standing in the nude before a group of strangers. It worked for Tom McCarthy, who enjoyed its literary benefits above all else: “Every morning, I’d turn up, strip off, and stand on a small podium while they drew me. If it was a sculpture class, the podium would turn, like a lazy Susan, as the students’ clay figures rotated atop their easels … Nothing I’ve ever done, before or since, has afforded me such a state of concentration—intense, extended, charged. I would run whole passages of text—Baudelaire, Rilke, Ponge, whomever I’d been reading, even my own small works in progress—through my head, forward, backward, taking apart each image, amplifying each meter and sub-rhythm in the loaded silence. I probably learned more about literature in the six months I spent on the podium than in the three previous years of study.”
  • Advice for young lovers: treat your amour to a fine, sturdy pair of brogues. Nothing says “I love you” like English footwear. When Marina Warner’s mother moved to England, she’d never left Italy before, and her husband-to-be knew what must be done. Warner writes, “My forty-two-year-old father took her—perhaps as a present for her twenty-third birthday—to be fitted for a pair of shoes at Peal & Co, a family firm famous for its clientele: Humphrey Bogart! Marlene Dietrich! Fred Astaire! The Duke of Windsor and Mrs. Simpson! Each customer was measured, and the findings entered in a series of ledgers known as the ‘Feet Books’; the bespoke shoemakers then modeled wooden lasts to be used to make the shoes; these effigies were labeled with the client’s personal number—my mother’s was 289643—to be kept in the firm’s store for use when the next pair was ordered. The Peal dynasty of cobblers—which stretched back at least to 1791 or even, some claimed, to 1565, and showed at both the Great Exhibition of 1851 and the Festival of Britain a century later—only stopped making shoes in 1965.” 

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Ulysses S. Grant Repaired My Parents’ Dryer

August 3, 2016 | by

Revisited is a series in which writers look back on a work of art they first encountered long ago.

He’s always watching.

In 1974, when they were honeymooning in Atlanta, my parents bought a portrait of Ulysses S. Grant—not the one pictured above, but something close enough. They spent fifty bucks on it: cash they’d won on a bet with my grandfather, wagering that Nixon would not see out his term.

The painting hung above our fireplace in northeast Ohio when I was a girl. It matters only peripherally that Grant was an actual man who lived and died in the nineteenth century; who was the eighteenth president of the United States; and who, as commanding general of the United States Army, led the Union Army to victory over the Confederacy in the Civil War. What matters is how single-minded I found his gaze, his eyes staring down at me—to say nothing of the distinguished crinkle of the eyebrows above them, those bright buttons on his jacket, that thick beard and head of hair, sculpted like cake frosting. Read More »

The Road to Toluca

March 3, 2016 | by

“As I let the shotgun drop the butt hit the bricks and the second shell fired into me...”

From the cover of The Child Poet

An excerpt from The Child Poet.

One Saturday toward noon in January 1951, three friends and I made our way home after playing soccer. The milky rays of a nearly white sun ploughed the damp earth, and our shadows moved neatly beneath our soles each time we lifted a foot to take a step. When we reached my house I waved goodbye to my friends. Without replying they continued on their way.

My solitary steps echoed along the sunlit corridor; my parents were at the store. And then I went into my brother’s room, although I hadn’t meant to go in … A shotgun someone had lent him was propped against the wall. As if moving by their own accord, my hands reached for it. I walked to the backyard and climbed onto a pile of bricks that were being used to build the new kitchen. There was no one around; the bricklayer and the peon were having lunch in the old dining room.

Standing on the bricks, I saw some birds alight on the sapodilla tree next door, to be momentarily covered by the branches … Until they returned to the air, over my head, high in the blue above … And without wanting to, I aimed the shotgun at them and fired, not intending to kill a single one.

I watched with relief as they all flew on until they were lost in the distance. But as I let the shotgun drop the butt hit the bricks and the second shell fired into me. Such was the blow I felt from the shots that I thought infinity had entered my belly. Read More »

Pimped for a Part

January 11, 2016 | by

My mother makes a match.

Image via New York Public Library.

My mother was open-minded about the boys I brought home. She was, in fact, oblivious to any of their flaws. In high school, in Philadelphia, my platinum-haired boyfriend, Billy, who walked with a strut and stole cars, OD’d in our basement under my black-light poster of Jimi Hendrix; Mom was fine about my visits to him in the locked ward in the Quaker mental hospital across the street from us on Roosevelt Boulevard. My next boyfriend, Randy, a whimsical outpatient with a genius IQ at the same hospital—we met on the bus; he was coming from prep school—got permission to have dinner with us one evening and afterward played with my gerbil. Randy blurted that he hallucinated perpetually because of all the LSD he’d taken and that now he was on Thorazine, Elavil, and a third prescription I can’t recall. My mother’s only comment: he should trim his nails.

She did seem to cotton on to my Mormon suitor in college (my only vice was tea) but criticized his piano playing as “stiff.” She did not seem disturbed when four years later I had a “dancer/artist” boyfriend in sex therapy (“You’re sexually repulsive to me,” he’d confided, “but don’t take it personally, all women are”), and she said nothing disparaging about his successor, an alcoholic Columbia University student/construction worker who accidentally burned, hoping to keep warm during a cold snap, all the savings he’d hidden in his never-used oven. He once showed up drunk at four A.M. with a lipstick-swished cheek and confessed he’d kissed another woman who’d bought him a cabbage, but it was me he really loved, he said, and then punched a hole in my door. Mom remained mute when I confided I’d met, in Egypt, a much younger French Algerian paratrooper named Karim, even when I revealed that he would call me long distance from Marseilles and never talk—simply whisper my name and breathe for twenty minutes, or play a tape of music he’d written. My bass-player roommate at that time, Sara, once quipped, “Karim’s mother’s not going to be very happy when she sees that phone bill.” Read More »

Mother Approved

October 6, 2015 | by

Only the best for my boy: the actress Helen Twelvetrees and her son, Jack Woody, in Sydney circa 1936.

I used to have a superpower. I never told anyone, of course—that’s the rule with powers—and in the grand tradition, it was a mixed blessing. It was this: mothers loved me.

It’s true. Mothers of all kinds wanted me to date their sons. Hell, they wanted me to marry them. Not shockingly, the actual sons in question were less jazzed about the prospect. It seemed like the very qualities that rendered me totally unsuitable to boys my own age—my good manners, my bookishness, my lack of any adult sexiness, even my runty size—were the same things that drew their mothers like catnip. Read More »