May 8, 2001

A Final Affection

by Paul Zimmer

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Poem: "A Final Affection," by Paul Zimmer, from Crossing to Sunlight (University of Georgia Press).

A Final Affection

I love the accomplishments of trees,
How they try to restrain great storms
And pacify the very worms that eat them.
Even their deaths seem to be considered.
I fear for trees, loving them so much.
I am nervous about each scar on bark,
Each leaf that browns. I want to
Lie in their crotches and sigh,
Whisper of sun and rains to come.

Sometimes on summer evenings I step
Out of my house to look at trees
Propping darkness up to the silence.

When I die I want to slant up
Through those trunks so slowly
I will see each rib of bark, each whorl;
Up through the canopy, the subtle veins
And lobes touching me with final affection;
Then to hover above and look down
One last time on the rich upliftings,
The circle that loves the sun and moon,
To see at last what held the darkness up.

It's the birthday of playwright Beth Henley, born in Jackson, Mississippi (1952). Her first professionally produced play, Crimes of the Heart (1979), is a black comedy about three southern sisters, one of whom has just shot her husband.

It's the birthday of novelist Peter Benchley, born in New York City (1940), who wrote one of the most successful first novels in literary history: Jaws (1974).

It's the birthday of novelist and short-story writer Thomas Pynchon, born in Glen Cove, New York (1937), one of the most reclusive writers in history. He's most famous for his novel Gravity's Rainbow (1973), a book which defies plot summary.

It's the birthday of poet Gary Snyder, born in San Francisco (1930). He met and befriended the Beat poets - Kenneth Rexroth, Allen Ginsberg, and Jack Kerouac - then left for Kyoto for 12 years. His book Turtle Island won the Pulitzer Prize in 1974.

It's the birthday of novelist Sloan Wilson, born in Norwalk, Connecticut (1920), best known for his novel The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1955). The book was based on his neighbor, a highly decorated World War II airman who worked for an advertising agency.

It's the birthday of French diplomat and writer Romain Gary, born in Vilna, Lithuania (1914), author of A European Education (1945), and The Dance of Gengis Cohn (1968).

It's the birthday of master blues guitarist Robert Johnson, born in Hazelhurst, Mississippi (1911). He met musicians Son House and Willie Brown and watched them play guitar at Delta picnics and parties. He started to play guitar himself, but was not very good at it. When he saw Son House again years later, his guitar playing had improved considerably. That's when the legend began - that Johnson had traded his soul to the devil in exchange for his newly acquired ability to play the guitar. Johnson recorded only twice: once in 1936, in a San Antonio hotel room; and once in 1937, in a Dallas warehouse.

It's the birthday of critic Edmund Wilson, born in Red Bank, New Jersey (1895). He went to Princeton - he was a fellow student of F. Scott Fitzgerald - and went on to become the pre-eminent literary and social critic of his time. He published many collections of non-fiction, including To the Finland Station (1940).

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