May 25, 1998

Mirror Song

by Edward Field


Today's Reading: "Mirror Song" by Edward Field from COUNTING MYSELF LUCKY, published by Black Sparrow Press (1992).

It's MEMORIAL DAY. No one's sure exactly when or where the holiday got started, but around the end of the Civil War at least three towns - Waterloo, New York; Boalsburg, Pennsylvania; and Jackson, Mississippi - began setting aside a day to lay flowers on soldiers' graves. The first national Memorial Day was May 30, 1868. That day at the cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, General James Garfield made these remarks: "I am oppressed with a sense of the impropriety of uttering words on this occasion. If silence is ever golden, it must be here beside the graves of 15,000 men whose lives were more significant than speech and whose death was a poem the music of which can never be sung."

It's the birthday in 1949, St. John's, Antigua, in the West Indies, of JAMAICA KINCAID, author of the novels Annie John (1985), Lucy (1990) and The Autobiography of My Mother (1996) - stories about turbulent mother-daughter relationships. She came to the U.S. when she was 17 years old to work as an au pair, and ten years later her stories were appearing in national magazines and she landed a job at the New Yorker writing "Talk of the Town" pieces and short fiction.

It's the birthday in Clatskanie, Oregon, 1938, of RAYMOND CARVER, the short-story writer whose books like Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? (1976), What We Talk About When We Talk About Love (1981), and Cathedral (1984) tell the everyday stories of the blue-collar workers in the Pacific Northwest.

It's the birthday in 1926 of composer and trumpeter MILES DAVIS, born in Alton, Illinois, just across the Mississippi from St. Louis. He was raised in East St. Louis, and when Billy Eckstine's band came through town in early 1944, their trumpeter was sick, so Davis got to sit in. He played alongside Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie and got hooked on be-bop, the fast, jagged style of music that Parker and Gillespie were creating.

It's the birthday in Saginaw, Michigan, 1908, of poet THEODORE ROETHKE, author in 1953 of The Waking which won him the Pulitzer Prize. He was a nature poet, but also one of the first American poets to delve into the human subconscious and write about dreams and sleep.

It's the birthday in Boston, 1803, of the poet and essayist RALPH WALDO EMERSON, who as a Unitarian minister in his mid-20s became famous for preaching sermons based on his own beliefs in self-reliance. In 1833, when he was 30 years old he started writing a long essay called Nature. In it he said that humans can transcend the material world, that we have the ability to know the pervasive spirit of the universe. This was transcendentalism, a view of the world that other writers, like Thoreau and Margaret Fuller, took to. Emerson particularly espoused the value of human intuition. He said, "Men grind and grind in the mill of a truism, and nothing comes out but what was put in. But the moment they desert tradition for a spontaneous thought - then poetry, wit, hope, virtue, learning, anecdote, all flock to their aid."

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  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
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