Mar. 29, 2001

Sitting in a small screenhouse on a summer morning

by James Wright

THURSDAY, 29 March 2001
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Poem: "Sitting in a Small Screenhouse on a Summer Morning," by James Wright, from Collected Poems (Wesleyan University Press).

Sitting in a Small Screenhouse on a Summer Morning

Ten more miles, it is South Dakota.
Somehow, the roads there turn blue,
When no one walks down them.
One more night of walking, and I could have become
A horse, a blue horse, dancing
Down a road, alone.

I have got this far. It is almost noon. But never mind time:
That is all over.
It is still Minnesota.
Among a few dead cornstalks, the starving shadow
Of a crow leaps to his death.
At least, it is green here,
Although between my body and the elder trees
A savage hornet strains at the wire screen.
He can't get in yet.

It is so still now, I hear the horse
Clear his nostrils.
He has crept out of the green places behind me.
Patient and affectionate, he reads over my shoulder
These words I have written.
He has lived a long time, and he loves to pretend
No one can see him.
Last night I paused at the edge of darkness,
And slept with green dew, alone.
I have come a long way, to surrender my shadow
To the shadow of a horse.

On this day in 1951, the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The King and I opened on Broadway. It starred Gertrude Lawrence as Anna, but the show was stolen by Yul Brynner as the King of Siam.

It's the birthday of actor and writer Eric Idle, born in South Shields, Durham, England (1943). As a member of Monty Python's Flying Circus, he played rogues, obsequious television hosts, and fussy old women. His books include the novel Hello Sailor (1974), The Rutland Dirty Weekend Book (1976), and The Road to Mars: A Post Modem Novel (1999).

It's the birthday of novelist Judith Guest, born in Detroit (1936). Her first novel, Ordinary People (1976), was the first unsolicited manuscript Viking Press had accepted in 26 years — and was a huge success. About her success she said,

"One of the good things was that I was 40 when it happened. I had a good life, and I worked hard to see that nothing about it changed. Also, once you get a taste of fame, it doesn't take long to figure out there's not a lot of nourishment in it, and you don't want to go down that path."

It's the birthday of politician Eugene McCarthy, born in Watkins, Minnesota (1916). He was a U.S. Senator from Minnesota when his opposition to the Vietnam War led him to enter the 1968 presidential primaries; he stunned the Democratic Party by nearly defeating the sitting President, Lyndon Johnson, in March, 1968. His Selected Poems was published in 1997.

On this day in 1886, the first batch of Coca-Cola was brewed over a fire in a backyard in Atlanta, Georgia, by Mr. John Pemberton, who created the concoction as a hangover cure and a stomach ache/headache remedy.

It's the birthday of playwright Howard Lindsay, born in Waterford, New York (1889). He collaborated for 28 years with fellow playwright Russel Crouse, writing the books for Broadway musicals: Crouse sat at the typewriter, while Lindsay paced the room and dictated. They wrote Life with Father (1939), Anything Goes (1934), The Sound of Music (1959), State of the Union (1945), and others.

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