Oct. 5, 2001

the last song

by Charles Bukowski

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Poem: "the last song," by Charles Bukowski from Bone Palace Ballet (Black Sparrow Press).

the last song

driving the freeway while
listening to the Country and Western boys
sing about a broken heart
and the honkytonk blues,
it seems that things just don't work
most of the time
and when they do it will be for a
short time
well, that's not news.
nothing's news.
it's the same old thing in
only one thing comes without a
disguise and you only see it
once, or
maybe never.
like getting hit by a freight
makes us realize that all our
moaning about long lost girls
in gingham dresses
is not so important

Today is the opening day of the three-day National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee. It's the oldest festival in the country devoted to traditional storytelling. Storytellers from various oral traditions will be there, including Appalachian, Western, American Indian, and Jewish storytellers.

It's the birthday of architect Maya Lin, born in Athens, Ohio (1959). As a new student majoring in architecture at Yale, she often took walks in Grove Street Cemetery and photographed the old gravestones. These pictures became the basis of her best-known design, the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial. The monument was inspired by the sense of peacefulness that she had experienced in her cemetery walks.

It's the birthday of Czech president and playwright Václav Havel, born in Prague in 1936. His wealthy father's property was confiscated by the Communists in 1948, and he had to scrounge for an education. He went on to work as a stagehand in a Prague theater and soon began writing his own plays. His first play was The Garden Party (1963), an absurdist play about the functioning of bureaucracy. His best-known play was The Memorandum (1965). By 1968, he was the resident playwright at the Theater of the Balustrade, and took an active part in the liberal reforms that year, known as the "Prague Spring." He became a prominent dissident in Czechoslovakia and eventually spent four years in prison (1979-1983). When the Czechoslovak union dissolved in 1992, he became the first President of the new Czech Republic.

It's the birthday of Irish novelist Brian O'Nolan, better known as Flann O'Brien, born in Strabane, County Tyrone, Ireland (1911). In 1935 he entered the Irish civil service and, four years later, published his first novel, At Swim-Two-Birds (1939). The book, now considered his masterpiece, was not a success. In the following year, however, he was asked to write a tri-weekly column for The Irish Times, which continued until his death in 1966. At Swim-Two-Birds was described by John Updike as "a fantastic parodistic stew of drunken banter, journalese, pulp fiction, and Celtic myth," and Dylan Thomas called it "just the book to give your sister if she's a loud, dirty, boozy girl."

On this day in 1877, Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce surrendered to U.S. troops in northern Montana. He had been leading his people to Canada in an effort to escape retaliation for the massacre of white settlers by members of his tribe. As he surrendered, just 40 miles from the Canadian border, he said: "Hear me, my chiefs; my heart is sick and sad. From where the Sun now stands, I will fight no more forever."

It's the birthday of the French philosopher Denis Diderot, born in Langres, France (1713). In 1746, when he was 32, he became the general editor of the 10-volume Encyclopédie. The aim of the work, according to Diderot, was "to assemble the knowledge scattered over the face of the earth; to explain the general plan to the men with whom we live so that we may not die without having deserved well of the human race."

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