Jun. 16, 2001

Listening to the Garden

by Brendan Galvin

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Poem: "Listening to the Garden," by Brendan Galvin from The Strength of a Named Thing (Louisiana State University Press).

Listening to the Garden

Look at it this way: under the brass fanfare
of their blossoms, all those zucchinis
are really incipient oompahs.
And the pea-vine tremolos?  Middle C
rubbed out of a rhubarb stalk?

Now you're beginning to hear it: that line
of radishes ostinato, bean paradiddles,
a beefsteak tomato redballing its cadenza.

Aren't the parts of these vegetables—the phloem,
the calyx and carina—names of woodwinds
you'd love to hear, in counterpoint
with the garden's valves and bells?

Remember that morning you drove
into the main street of a town—Colorado Springs,
was it? - on no holiday you could name?

Nevertheless, the high-school band was passing,
majorettes in their short, flippant skirts
frilled like the inner linings of lettuce,
and shakos, corn-tassel plumed, remember,

and the frogging on jackets—cucumber vines
scrolled on themselves.  The whole garden's
flash and patootle was moving off
toward a snowed-upon peak
down at the end of that street.

Today is Bloomsday, the day on which all of the action in James Joyce's novel Ulysses takes place in the year 1904, starting at Martello tower in Sandycove, 8 miles south of Dublin. In Joyce's own life, it was on this day that he met chambermaid Nora Barnacle at Finn's Hotel in Dublin, and took her for a walk. She later became his wife.

On this day in 1945, nuclear scientist Robert Openheimer sent a letter marked Top Secret to President Harry Truman, recommending that the atomic bomb be deployed against Japan in the waning days of World War II in order to save American lives. A few days before, scientists at the University of Chicago had issued a report urging that the bomb be demonstrated "before representatives of all Nations, on the desert or a barren island," hoping that just the sight of it would be a strong enough deterrent to end the war. But Openheimer, along with scientists Enrico Fermi, Arthur Compton, and Ernest Lawrence, argued against a public demonstration. It was just one month later on the sixteenth of July, a private test took place 120 miles south of Albuquerque, New Mexico; and on August 6, the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.

It's the birthday of writer Joyce Carol Oates, born in Lockport, New York, in 1938. She got the gift of a typewriter at the age of 14 and began to "write novel after novel" throughout high school and college. Her first novel was published when she was 26, With Shuddering Fall. She married and settled in Detroit with her husband and wrote her first big novel, Them in 1969, which won the National Book Award. The novel grew out of her Detroit experience. Joyce Carol Oates, who publishes new books at the rate of two or three per year, as well as teaching full time, said, when asked how she managed to produce so much work in a wide variety of genres, "I have always lived a very conventional life of moderation, absolutely regular hours, nothing exotic, no need, even, to organize my time."

It's the birthday of novelist Erich Segal, born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1937, who had a big hit in 1970 with the novella Love Story.

It's the birthday of writer John H. Griffin, born in Dallas, Texas, in 1920. In 1959, he began a series of treatments using sun-lamps and steroids to darken his skin. For six weeks in 1960, he hitchhiked, rode buses, and walked through the South, passing as a black man, and describing his experiences in his book, Black Like Me.

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