May 24, 2001

A Walk

by Raymond Carver

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Poem: "A Walk," by Raymond Carver, from All of Us: The Collected Poems (Alfred A. Knopf).

A Walk

I took a walk on the railroad track.
Followed that for a while
and got off at the country graveyard
where a man sleeps between
two wives. Emily van der Zee,
Loving Wife and Mother,
is at John van der Zee's right.
Mary, the second Mrs. van der Zee
also a loving wife, to his left.
First Emily went, then Mary.
After a few years, the old fellow himself.
Eleven children came from these unions.
And they, too, would all have to be dead now.
This is a quiet place. As good a place as any
to break my walk, sit, and provide against
my own death, which comes on.
But I don't understand, and I don't understand.
All I know about this fine, sweaty life,
my own or anyone else's,
is that in a little while I'll rise up
and leave this astonishing place
that gives shelter to dead people. This graveyard.
And go. Walking first on one rail
and then the other.

On this day in 1941, the British Navy's H.M.S Hood, the largest warship in the world, was sunk by the German battleship Bismarck somewhere between Iceland and Greenland. Most of the Hood's 1,341 officers and men were lost at sea.

On the same day of the same year, Bob Dylan (Robert Allen Zimmerman) was born in Duluth, Minnesota (1941). He grew up in the nearby town of Hibbing.

It's the birthday of poet Joseph Brodsky, born in Leningrad (1940). He worked as a laborer, mill worker, and merchant seaman while writing poetry. His work was popular within certain literary circles, but the authorities did not care for him, despite their trouble finding anything overtly political to object to in his verse. He was attacked in newspapers, he was interrogated, his papers were seized, and his poetry was denounced. Twice he was put in mental institutions. Brodsky was sentenced to five years in a labor camp, but when a transcript of the trial was smuggled out of the Soviet Union, he became a hero in the West and was allowed to leave the country. He never returned, even after the collapse of the Soviet government. He became an American citizen in 1977, and won many awards, including Nobel Prize for Literature (1987). He died in his apartment in Brooklyn Heights, of a heart attack, at the age of 55, in 1996.

On this day in 1929, the Marx Brothers' first movie, The Cocoanuts, had its premiere in New York City.

It's the birthday of novelist William Trevor, born in Mitchelstown, the Republic of Ireland (1928). His books include A Standard of Behavior (1958), and The Old Boys (1964). He's famous for his black comedies in which the elderly, the orphaned, and the sexually perverted are set loose in decent society.

On this day in 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge was opened to public traffic. At the time, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world, with a main span of 1,595 feet.

It's the birthday of Dr. Lillian Gilbreth, born in Oakland, California (1878). She, along with her husband, was a pioneer of time-and-motion studies. They were also the parents of 12 children, who were celebrated in the memoir Cheaper by the Dozen (1949).

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