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Prize poet

Noted author Michael Ondaatje spent a week last spring at Skidmore, discussing poetry, fiction, and the movie of his novel The English Patient. A regular at the Skidmore-hosted summer writers institute, Ondaatje was named to the new McCormack Visiting Artist-Scholar Residency, honoring special-programs dean Don McCormack and counseling-center director Judy McCormack. The goal of the residency is to bring the creative energy of Skidmore’s summer programs to students and faculty during the academic year.

Excerpts of an Ondaatje poem discussed during his visit:

To a Sad Daughter

All night long the hockey pictures
gaze down at you
sleeping in your tracksuit.
Belligerent goalies are your ideal.
Threats of being traded
cuts and wounds
—all this pleases you.
O my god! you say at breakfast
reading the sports page over the Alpen
as another player breaks his ankle
or assaults the coach.

When I thought of daughters
I wasn’t expecting this
but I like this more.
I like all your faults
even your purple moods
when you retreat from everyone
to sit in bed under a quilt.
And when I say “like”
I mean of course “love”
but that embarrasses you.
You who feel superior to black and white movies
(coaxed for hours to see Casablanca)
though you were moved
by Creature from the Black Lagoon.

One day I’ll come swimming
beside your ship or someone will
and if you hear the siren
listen to it. For if you close your ears
only nothing happens. You will never change.

I don’t care if you risk
your life to angry goalies
creatures with webbed feet.
You can enter their caves and castles
their glass laboratories. Just
don’t be fooled by anyone but yourself.…

One afternoon I stepped
into your room. You were sitting
at the desk where I now write this.
Forsythia outside the window
and sun spilled over you
like a thick yellow miracle
as if another planet
was coaxing you out of the house
—all those possible worlds!—
and you, meanwhile, busy with
mathematics.

I cannot look at forsythia now
without loss, or joy for you.
You step delicately
into the wild world
and your real prize will be
the frantic search.
Want everything. If you break
break going out not in.
How you live your life I don’t care
but I’ll sell my arms for you,
hold your secrets forever.…

 

From The Cinnamon Peeler by Michael Ondaatje, © 1989 by Michael Ondaatje. Reprinted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House Inc.