Joyce Carol Oates
Biography of Joyce Carol Oates
Joyce Carol Oates (born June 16, 1938) is an American author. Oates published her first book in 1963 and has since published over fifty novels, as well as many volumes of short stories, poetry, and nonfiction. Her novel them (1969) won the National Book Award, and her novels Black Water (1992), What I Lived For (1994), and Blonde (2000) were nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.
As of 2008, Oates is the Roger S. Berlind '52 Professor in the Humanities with the Program in Creative Writing at Princeton University, where she has taught since 1978.
Joyce Carol Oates Poems
Women Whose Lives are Food, Men Whose Li...
Mid-morning Monday she is staring peaceful as the rain in that shallow back yard she wears flannel bedroom slippers she is sipping coffee she is thinking— —gazing at the weedy bumpy yard at the faces beginning to take shape in the wavy mud in the linoleum where floorboards assert themselves Women whose lives are food breaking eggs with care scraping garbage from the plates unpacking groceries hand over hand Wednesday evening: he takes the cans out front tough plastic with detachable lids Thursday morning: the garbage truck whining at 7 Friday the shopping mall open till 9 bags of groceries unpacked hand over certain hand Men whose lives are money time-and-a-half Saturdays the lunchbag folded with care and brought back home unfolded Monday morning Women whose lives are food because they are not punch-carded because they are unclocked sighing glad to be alone staring into the yard, mid-morning mid-week by mid-afternoon everything is forgotten There are long evenings panel discussions on abortions, fashions, meaningful work there are love scenes where people mouth passions sprightly, handsome, silly, manic in close-ups revealed ageless the women whose lives are food the men whose lives are money fidget as these strangers embrace and weep and mis- understand and forgive and die and weep and embrace and the viewers stare and fidget and sigh and begin yawning around 10:30 never made it past midnight, even on Saturdays, watching their braven selves perform Where are the promised revelations? Why have they been shown so many times? Long-limbed children a thousand miles to the west hitch-hiking in spring, burnt bronze in summer thumbs nagging eyes pleading Give us a ride, huh? Give us a ride? and when they return nothing is changed the linoleum looks older the Hawaiian Chicken is new the girls wash their hair more often the boys skip over the puddles in the GM parking lot no one eyes them with envy their mothers stoop the oven doors settle with a thump the dishes are rinsed and stacked and by mid-morning the house is quiet it is raining out back or not raining the relief of emptiness rains simple, terrible, routine at peace
Too Young to Marry but Not Too Young to ...
Drowned together in his car in Lake Chippewa. It was a bright cold starry night on Lake Chippewa. Lake Chippewa was a "living" lake then, though soon afterward it would choke and die. In the bright cold morning after we could spy them only through a patch of ice brushed clear of snow. Scarcely three feet below, they were oblivious of us. Together beneath the ice in each other's arms. Jean-Marie's head rested on Troy's shoulder. Their hair had floated up and was frozen. Their eyes were open in the perfect lucidity of death. Calmly they sat upright. Not a breath! It was 1967, there were no seat belts to keep them apart. Beautiful as mannequins in Slater Brothers' window. Faces flawless, not a blemish. Yet—you could believe they might be breath- ing, for some trick of scintillate light revealed tiny bubbles in the ice, and a motion like a smile in Jean-Marie's perfect face. How far Troy'd driven the car onto Lake Chippewa before the ice creaked, and cracked, and opened like the parting of giant jaws—at least fifty feet! This was a feat like his 7-foot-3.8-inch high jump. In the briny snow you could see the car tracks along the shore where in summer sand we'd sprawl and soak up sun in defiance of skin carcinomas to come. And you could see how deftly he'd turned the wheel onto the ice at just the right place. And on the ice you could see how he'd made the tires spin and grab and Jean-Marie clutching his hand Oh oh oh! The sinking would be silent, and slow. Eastern edge of Lake Chippewa, shallower than most of the lake but deep enough at twelve feet to suck down Mr. Dupuy's Chevy so all that was visible from shore was the gaping ice wound. And then in the starry night a drop to -5 degrees Fahrenheit and ice freezing over the sunken car. Who would have guessed it, of Lake Chippewa! Now in the morning through the swept ice there's a shocking intimacy just below. With our mittens we brush away powder snow. With our boots we kick away ice chunks. Lie flat and stare through the ice Seeing Jean-Marie Schuter and Troy Dupuy as we'd never seen them in life. Our breaths steam in Sunday-morning light. It will be something we must live with— the couple do not care about our astonishment. Perfect in love, and needing no one to applaud as they'd been oblivious of our applause at the Herkimer Junior High prom where they were crowned Queen and King three years before. (In Herkimer County, New York, you grew up fast. The body matured, the brain lagged behind, like the slowest runner on the track team we'd applaud with affection mistaken for teen mockery.) No one wanted to summon help just yet. It was a dreamy silence above ice as below. And the ice a shifting hue—silvery, ghost-gray, pale blue—as the sky shifts overhead like a frowning parent. What! Lake Chippewa was where some of us went ice-fishing with our grandfathers. Sometimes, we skated. Summers there were speedboats, canoes. There'd been drownings in Lake Chippewa we'd heard but no one of ours. Police, fire-truck, ambulance sirens would rend the air. Strangers would shout at one another. We'd be ordered back—off the ice of Lake Chippewa that shone with beauty and onto the littered shore. By harsh daylight made to see Mr. Dupuy's 1963 Chevy hooked like a great doomed fish. All that privacy yanked upward pitiless and streaming icy rivulets! We knew it was wrong to disturb the frozen lovers and make of them mere bodies. Sweet-lethal embrace of Lake Chippewa But no embrace can survive thawing. One of us, Gordy Garrison, would write a song, "Too Young to Marry But Not Too Young to Die" (echo of Bill Monroe's "I Traced Her Little Footprints in the Snow"), which he'd sing with his band the Raiders, accompanying himself on the Little Martin guitar he'd bought from his cousin Art Garrison when Art enlisted in the U.S. Navy and for a while it was all you'd hear at Herkimer High, where the Raiders played for Friday-night dances in the gym, but then we graduated and things changed and nothing more came of Gordy's song or of the Raiders. "TOO YOUNG TO MARRY BUT NOT TOO YOUNG TO DIE" was the headline in the Herkimer Packet. We scissored out the front-page article, kept it for decades in a bedroom drawer. (No one ever moves in Herkimer except those who move away, and never come back.) The clipping is yellowed, deeply creased, and beginning to tear. When some of us stare at the photos our hearts cease beating—oh, just a beat! It was something we'd learned to live with— there'd been no boy desperate to die with any of us. We'd have accepted, probably—yes. Deep breath, shuttered eyes—yes, Troy. Secret kept yellowed and creased in the drawer, though if you ask, laughingly we'd deny it. We see Gordy sometimes, and his wife, June. Our grand- children are friends. Hum Gordy's old song to make Gordy blush a fierce apricot hue but it seems cruel, we're all on blood thinners now.
didn't thank didn't wave goodbye didn't flutter the air with kisses a mound of gifts unwrapped bed unmade no appetite always elsewhere though it was raining elsewhere though strangers peopled the streets though we at home slaved and baked and wept and hung ornaments and perfumed the dark did he marvel did he thank was he grateful did he know was he human was he there always elsewhere: didn't thank didn't kiss toothbrush stiffened with unuse puppy whining in the hall car battery dead sweaters unraveled was that human? Went where?
Poetry Is the Gnomic Utterance from Whic...
At the podium measured and grave as a metronome the (white, male) poet with bald- gleaming head broods in gnom- ic syllables on the death of 12-year-old (black, male) Tamir Rice shot in a park by a Cleveland police officer claiming to believe the boy's plastic pistol was a "real gun" like his own eager to discharge and slay while twelve feet away at the edge of the bright-lit stage the (white, female) interpreter signing for the deaf is stricken with emotion — horror, pity, disbelief — outrage, sorrow — young-woman face contorted and eyes spilling tears like Tamir Rice's mother perhaps, or the sister made to witness the child's bleeding out in the Cleveland park. We stare as the interpreter's fingers pluck the poet's words out of the air like bullets, break open stanzas tight as conches with the deft ferocity of a cormo- rant and render gnome-speech raw as hurt, as harm, as human terror wet-eyed and mouth-grimaced in horror's perfect O.
the blood-smear across the knuckles: painless, inexplicable. once you discover it pain will begin, in miniature. never will you learn what caused it. you forget it. the telephone answered on the twelfth ring: silence without breath, cunning, stark. and then he hangs up. and you stand there, alone. then you forget. and your father's inexplicable visit: two days' notice, a ten-hour reckless drive. rains, 80 mph winds, bad luck all the way, traffic backed up, a broken windshield wiper, and no stopping him. clumsy handshakes. How are—? You seem—! How good to —! How long will—? he must leave in the morning, must get back. a gas station two blocks away repairs the wiper. did he sense death, and so he raced to us? did he already guess at his death behind those nervous fond smiles, the tumult of memories he had to bear? nothing we know can explain his visit, or the new, strange way he moved among us— touching us, squeezing our arms, smiling. the visit was an excuse. the words that surrounded our touching were an excuse. inexplicable, that the language we invent may be a means to get us closer, to allow us to touch one another, and then to back away.
An Age of Miracles
He walked to the window stared down twenty stories to the street gaseous and dizzy as a swamp not visible at this height but there had been a street down there and he knew It came with the apartment and the guarded foyers and halls and the doorman holstered beneath the uniform the television split-screening front and rear entrances He knew it was all there and he was here twenty stories above the unsetteled swamp-mist he knew the trucks bound for the bridge were still passing near he could feel them rumbling in the soles of his feet so he knew the floor he walked on was someone's ceiling and it was all normal tonight and countable a two-year lease because a desirable with full view of river- a five-by-three balcony through the door is $200 deposit fully carpeted self-defrosting refriger- the balcony door is stuck but He can stare twenty stories down from the windowsill watching the swamp smokes curl and thin and the swamp lapping at the base and the unpaid-for miracle one inch at a time
the blood-smear across the knuckles:
once you discover it pain will begin,
never will you learn what caused it.
you forget it.
the telephone answered on the twelfth ring:
silence without breath, cunning, stark.