Jun. 18, 2001

A Man Gets Off Work Early

by Thomas Lux

Monday, 18 June 2001
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Poem: "A Man Gets Off Work Early," by Thomas Lux from The Street of Clocks (Houghton Mifflin).

A Man Gets Off Work Early

and decides to snorkel in a cool mountain lake.
Not as much to see
as in the ocean, but it's tranquil (no sharks) floating
face down into that other world.
The pines' serrated shadows reach
across the waters,
and just now, just below him, to his left,
a pickerel, long and sharp and...whuppa whuppa whuppa, loud,
louder, behind him, above him, the water, louder,
whuppa whuppa whuppa....Two weeks later,
twenty miles away, he's found,
a cinder, his wetsuit
melted on him, in a crablike position
on the still warm ash
of the forest floor
through which fire tore unchecked,
despite the chemicals,
the men with axes and shovels,
despite the huge scoops of lake water
dropped on it
from his friend the sky,
on whom he turned his back.

It's the birthday of the children's writer and artist Chris Van Allsburg, born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1949. He was an art major at the University of Michigan, took up sculpture, and then started illustrating and writing books. His second book, Jumanji, in 1981, was about a brother and sister who find a board game from which wild animals emerge. In 1985, he wrote his best-selling book The Polar Express, a Christmas fable about a train carrying a small boy to the North Pole to meet Santa Claus.

It's the birthday of James Paul McCartney, born in Liverpool, England in 1942. He sang in the church choir at St. Barnabus, and got good grades in grammar school at the Liverpool Institute. When he was 14, he learned to play a left-handed guitar and met a local art student named John Lennon. They formed a "skiffle" band called the Quarrymen, then changed their name to the Beatles at Christmastime in 1960. The Guinness Book of World Records lists Paul McCartney as the best-selling composer of all time.

It's the birthday of novelist Gail Godwin, born in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1937. She was a journalist for the Miami Herald when she first started writing novels. Her first was The Perfectionists, published in 1970.

It's the birthday of the financial columnist Sylvia Porter, born in Patchogue, Long Island, in 1913. She was an English major at Hunter College, but after the stock market crash of 1929 she decided to change her major to economics. She started writing for financial journals, using S.F. Porter as her byline to hide her gender.

It's the birthday of illustrator and writer James Montgomery Flagg, born in Pelham Manor, New York, in 1877. He was most famous for his recruiting poster for World War I, the picture of Uncle Sam, pointing at the viewer with the caption "I Want You for the U.S. Army."

It's the birthday of the humorist and novelist Carolyn Wells, born in Rahway, New Jersey, in 1862. She contributed humorous verse to magazines such as Lark, Puck, Harper's Bazaar, Life, Saturday Evening Post, and Colliers. She edited a book called A Nonsense Anthology, and wrote: "The timid Corn-Pone-y's heart fluttered,/But never a sentence he uttered,/Until somebody said,/'Pray, are you well bred?'/And he answered, 'I'm very well buttered.'"

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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