Apr. 25, 2001

Daddy Out Hitch-Hiking At 3:00 A.M.

by John Balaban

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Poem: "Daddy Out Hitch-Hiking at 3:00 A.M." by John Balaban, from Locusts at the Edge of Summer (Copper Canyon, 1997).

Daddy Out Hitch-Hiking At 3:00 A.M

Finally it was just me, and the katydids
cranking out nightsongs in clumps of willows
by a barn roofed by moonlight, by a ryefield
luminous with dew. I stepped off the highway
ribboning out through the valley. Walked
through wet weeds to a pond gathering vapors.

Angels see the way I saw that night
when only large shapes loomed
and all my thoughts were laid aside
as I searched the night opening before me
and soul shuffled out of self and sing
with katydids chattering in the murky trees.

All beasts are kind with divine instruction.
The paired ducks slept beneath their wings.
Minnows wavered in the moon-charmed creek
where a muskrat hunched and licked its paws
listening like me to insects calling
searching and calling at the end of the summer.

This is what Daddy was doing
the August you were born.
Wandering off alone on highways
walking off highways into the night
calming a head loud with the past
listening to things that make a song.

It's the birthday of Padgett Powell, born in Gainesville, Florida (1952). His first novel was Edisto (1985), about a boy's coming of age in a backwater town on the South Carolina coast. Since then, he's written two collections of short stories and three more novels. "Bad luck at fishing and worse with women," he says, "made me what little writer I am."

It's the anniversary of one of the bloodiest and most pointless military campaigns in history, the battle of Gallipoli (1915). British, Australian, and New Zealand forces landed there, trying to seize control of the Dardanelles from the Turks.

It's the birthday of Ella Fitzgerald, born in Newport News, Virginia (1918). She was 16 years old when she entered a talent contest at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, wearing second-hand clothes and a pair of men's boots. From 1956 to 1967, she recorded a series of 19 LPs called "song books," devoted to the songs of the Gershwins, Duke Ellington, Irving Berlin, and others.

It's the birthday of broadcaster Edward R. Murrow, born in Greensboro, North Carolina (1908). He went to Europe in 1938 to cover the war for CBS. He assembled a team of correspondents who could report live from different cities on the same broadcast. This came to be known as the "news round-up."

"In order to progress, radio need only go backward, to the time when singing commercials were not allowed on news reports, when there was no middle commercial on a news report, when radio was rather proud, alert, and fast."

It's the birthday of the Italian physicist and radio inventor Guglielmo Marconi, born in Bologna, Italy (1874). In 1901 he sent the first transatlantic radio transmission.

It's the anniversary of the publication of the book that many people consider the first novel: Robinson Crusoe (1719), by Daniel Defoe. The book is based loosely on the adventures of an actual castaway, Alexander Selkirk, who had spent four years on a desert island off South America.

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