My mother’s diary—from February 18 through March 21, 1943—that’s all there is—starts with an invocation from Psalm XXVIII, Unto thee will I cry, O Lord. May Kahn, a Jewish girl just turned twenty-three, lives in the Bronx with her mother, 4’9″ in heels; her father, a clothing cutter of men’s suiting in the Garment District; and her younger brother, Bernie. The war is going on, but except for brief mentions of “that damn dim-out” and the “sword of Damocles to fall in July”—Eugene’s being called up—it’s far away. The twenty-six pages cover Eugene’s courtship—a lot of stopping for pie and coffee—the half-dozen other guys the young woman is stringing along, the trials and tribulations of her search for a teaching appointment (a physical failed because of her rheumatic heart), and brief dispatches from an outside world (“Gandhi’s fast and the Indian problem”) from her journalist-friend Rosalind. She also mentions Eugene (a medical resident) getting permission for her “to watch an appendicitis operation on a 17-year-old colored boy.” But what really knocks me out is she fancied herself a writer (“wrote a short story … about an empty cartridge shell found on a subway”) and an artist (“tried sketching a nude using a photograph in Coronet.… Ended up the day by writing a few more poems none really worth while”). From the sample here (“the throbbing of my bosom…my heart’s too busy sighing”), her assessment is justified. She confesses that she is drawing “just to keep [her] fingers busy while listening to the radio.” It’s duty that drives it all.
Diane K. Martin’s non-fiction has appeared in The Establishment, VIDA, Connotation Press, and The Rumpus, and her fiction has appeared in Narrative Northeast. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in American Poetry Review, Kenyon Review, Field, Harvard Review, Plume, and many other journals and anthologies. She lives in west Sonoma County, California.