Thursday

Mar. 1, 2001

Hitchhiker

by Galway Kinnell

THURSDAY, 1 March 2001
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Poem: "Hitchhiker," by Galway Kinnell, from Imperfect Thirst (Houghton Mifflin).

Hitchhiker

After a moment, the driver, a salesman
for Travelers Insurance heading for
Topeka, said, "What was that?"
I, in my Navy Uniform, still useful
for hitchhiking though the war was over,
said, "I think you hit somebody."
I knew he had. The round face, opening
in surprise as the man bounced off the fender,
had given me a look as he swept past.
"Why didn't you say something?" The salesman
stepped hard on the brakes. "I thought you saw,"
I said. I didn't know why. It came to me
I could have sat next to this man all the way
to Topeka without saying a word about it.
He opened the door and looked back.
I did the same. At the roadside,
in the glow of a streetlight, was a body.
A man was bending over it. For an instant
it was myself, in a time to come,
bending over the body of my father.
The man stood and shouted at us, "Forget it!
He gets hit all the time!" Oh.
A bum. We were happy to forget it.
The rest of the way, into dawn in Kansas,
when the salesman dropped me off, we did not speak,
except, as I got out, I said, "Thanks,"
and he said, "Don't mention it."

It's the birthday of English novelist Jim Crace, born in Hertfordshire, England (1946). He's the author of many novels, including Continent (1987), Arcadia (1992), Quarrantine (1997), and his most recent, Being Dead (2000), which starts off with the murder of two middle-aged lovers on a remote beach.

It's the birthday of American poet Robert Hass, born in San Francisco (1942), the author of six collections of poetry, and translator of the work of Czeslaw Milosz.

It's the birthday of poet Richard Wilbur, born in New York City (1921).

It's the birthday of poet, novelist, and critic Howard Nemerov, born in New York (1920).

It's the birthday of novelist Ralph (Waldo) Ellison, born in Oklahoma City (1914). After serving in the Merchant Marine during World War Two, he was invited to spend some time at the home of a friend in Vermont. One day, he sat down at a typewriter and typed out the words, "I am an invisible man." He didn't know where the words would lead him, but they stayed with him, and eventually grew into a 572-page novel, Invisible Man (1952), the story of a young black man who leaves the South for New York. The novel won the National Book Award, and became a classic of American fiction. For the rest of his life, Ellison worked on his second novel, much of which went up in flames in 1967, when his house burned. He spent nearly 3 decades rewriting it, and when he died in 1994 it had grown to 2,000 pages. Ellison's literary executor cut it down to 400 pages, titled it Juneteenth, and released the book in 1999.

On this date in 1872, Yellowstone National Park was created—the first national park. It covers an area of over two million acres.

It's the birthday of novelist and critic William Dean Howells, born in Martin Ferry, Ohio (1837). He wrote a campaign biography of Lincoln in 1860, and was given an appointment as consul in Venice, where he produced the first of his many travel books. His first novels didn't do very well, but when he turned to realism with The Rise of Silas Lapham (1885), he became a leading novelist. He was a literary mentor of Mark Twain, Thorstein Veblen, and Stephen Crane.

(Instapaper)

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