Oct. 26, 2001

A Ritual to Read to Each Other

by William Stafford

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Poem: "A Ritual To Read To Each Other," by William Stafford from Stories That Could Be True: New and Collected Poems (Harper & Row).

A Ritual To Read To Each Other

If you don't know the kind of person I am
and I don't know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant's tail,
but if one wanders the circus won't find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider—
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give—yes or no, or maybe—
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

It's the birthday of horror writer Clive Barker, born in Liverpool, England (1952).  He's the author of the fantasy novel Weaverworld (1987) and the collections of short fiction The Books of Blood (1984) and In the Flesh (2000).  When asked about the level of violence in his horror stories, he said: "There's got to be something vile at the end of it, or else why aren't you on a roller coaster instead?"

It's the birthday of novelist Pat Conroy, born in Atlanta, Georgia (1945). After moving to Atlanta in 1976, Conroy wrote his first novel, The Great Santini, about a son's loyalty to his abusive father. The semi-autobiographical novel was later presented by Conroy's mother as evidence in her divorce proceedings against Conroy's father.  His next novel, The Lords of Discipline (1980) was set at the Citadel. His other novels include The Prince of Tides (1986) and Beach Music (1997).

It's the birthday of American biographer Phyllis Rose, born in New York City (1942).  Her first success came with her biography of Virginia Woolf, Woman of Letters (1978).  This was followed by Parallel Lives: Five Victorian Marriages (1983), in which she studies the marriages of Thomas Carlyle, John Ruskin, John Stuart Mill, Charles Dickens, and George Eliot.  In 1989, she came out with a biography of jazz great Josephine Baker, called  Jazz Cleopatra.

It's the birthday of American novelist and poet John L'Heureux, born in South Hadley, Massachusetts (1934).  From the Jesuits he received a solid classical education, with classes taught in Latin.  He was ordained as a priest and remained a Jesuit for 17 years.  His first book was a volume of poetry, Quick as Dandelions (1964).  His first novel, Tight White Collar, appeared in 1972, a year after he left the priesthood. He said: "The whole idea of being a writer is to get out of oneself into another hide."

It's the birthday of jazz saxophonist and bandleader Charlie Barnet, born in New York City (1913). In 1932, he became the leader of the band at the Paramount Hotel in New York City, and soon began hiring black musicians—one of the first white bandleaders to do so.  Lena Horne was an early vocalist with his band, which was also one of the few predominantly white bands to play the Apollo Theater in Harlem.

On this day in 1825, the Erie Canal opened, connecting Lake Erie with the Hudson River.  Construction on the canal started on July 4, 1817, and when the project was completed it had cost a total of over seven and a half million dollars.  The canal is over 360 miles long.  To celebrate the opening of the canal, New York governor DeWitt Clinton boarded the canal boat Seneca Chief at Buffalo, traveled to Albany on the canal, then traveled down the Hudson River to New York City, where he arrived on November 4.

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