Apr. 19, 2001


by R. T. Smith

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Poem: "Angels," by R.T. Smith, from Trespasser (Louisiana State University Press).


High in the April barn
the swallows are worshiping
dry straw, the gold motes
ascending, so many
dusty wings. If there is
milk cooling like moonlight
in brimfull tins, if
flies circle in the shadow
of Hereford drool, if sprigs
of henbit and sage cloister
in the corner, the birds
still swirl like the very
essence of vigor. Backlit
to dazzlement by afternoon
sunlight, they embroider
the air. Here in the steeple
beneath the weathercock's
windblown ache and swing,
the dark angels create
order, the choral rush and
flutter of wings. Their
eyes are smooth as a thumbed
rosary, and where mortals'
bones would channel marrow,
they have only the buoyant
and holy air. Nevertheless,
the blasphemous farm cat
hungry for sacrament slinks
up the ladder's rungs — his
sepal eyes, thorns for claws,
a rose petal for his pagan
and ravenous tongue.

It's the birthday of Canadian novelist Neil Bissoondath, born in Trinidad (1955). He moved to Canada when he was 18 at the advice of his uncle, the writer V.S. Naipaul.

It's the birthday of poet Etheridge Knight, born in Corinth, Mississippi (1933). He wrote poetry while serving time at Indiana State Prison for armed robbery. He published his first book of poems, Poems from Prison (1968), a year before his parole.

It's the birthday of British playwright and novelist Richard Hughes, born in Weybridge, Surrey (1900). He's best known for his first novel, A High Wind in Jamaica. It's the story of a group of children captured by pirates—but the reader is more fearful of the children than of the pirates.

On this day in 1897, the first running of the Boston Marathon took place, from the Irvington Oval in Boston to Metcalf's Mill in Ashland. It was the first race of this magnitude in the United States. John J. McDermott of New York City won, with a time of 2 hours, 55 minutes, and 10 seconds.

On this day in 1824, George Gordon Noel Byron, the sixth Lord Byron, died of malarial fever which he got in a rainstorm in Missolonghi, where he had been training Greek troops fighting for liberation from the Turkish Empire. He'd become famous as a poet with the publication, in 1812, of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. He said, "I awoke one morning and found myself famous." His death at Missolonghi was hastened by the "bleeding" which was often used to try to cure illnesses in those days.

It is the birthday of Sarah Kemble Knight, born in Boston (1666). When she was in her late thirties, she rode from Boston to New York City on horseback, alone, on family business. She kept a diary during her travels, and described each day of the journey, from sun up to sun down, including what she ate, where she slept, whom she met, and what they said. She had a keen eye for detail. The diary disappeared after her death, but was discovered a hundred years later, and published in 1825.

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