Nov. 13, 2001

Night Poem: U.S.A.

by George Garrett

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Poem: "Night Poem: U.S.A.," by George Garrett from Days of Our Lives Lie in Fragments (Louisiana State University Press).

Night Poem: U.S.A.

They roll up the sidewalks all over town
by 11:30 p.m. Lord, by midnight there's nothing
doing, moving. Lone streetlights glare
like one-eyed giants, do not dare to dance.
Here and there a late place burns pale
fire to keep back the beasts of the night.
Somebody's sick, you think (like Huck),
or, less innocent, project the lewd
fantastic, the cheap frail beams
of poor Imagination gone awry
into those naked rooms. Alas
for the cop on the corner who gives you
a glass-eyed stare, and for the last car
weaving the pavement like a lonesome drunk.
Dancers, giants, heroes and dreamers,
where are you now? It's a fact—
when the heart breaks it doesn't make a sound.

It was on this day in 1981 that the Vietnam memorial was dedicated in Washington, D.C. The controversial design was the work of Maya Lin who was an architecture student at Yale at the time. The memorial consists of two black granite walls inscribed with the names of 57,939 American soldiers killed or missing in the Vietnam war, ordered according to the date they were lost.

It was on this day in 1927 that the Holland Tunnel into Manhattan was opened to traffic. It was opened to pedestrians on November 12 for one day. It was the first under-water vehicular tunnel to be built, spanning the nearly two miles between New York City and New Jersey under the Hudson River.

It's the birthday of American crime novelist and short story writer George Vincent Higgins, born in Brocton Massachusetts (1939). He worked as a reporter for a while, covering Mafia trials in Providence and Boston and then became a lawyer, serving as a state and as a federal prosecutor, primarily in the area of organized crime. He began writing novels at the age of 15 and had written 14 of them before he got one published, The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1972). After that, though he continued to work as a lawyer, he published about one novel per year until his death in 1999. He is known for his penchant for telling a story through dialogue, and he said: "I'm not doing dialogue because I like doing dialogue. The characters are telling you the story. I'm not telling you the story, 'they're' going to do it. If I do it right, you will get the whole story."

It's the birthday of the Scottish author Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson, born in Edinburgh (1850). He was a sickly child and fought tuberculosis until his death at age 44, but this did not prevent him from leading the life of an adventurer. In Paris in 1876, he met and fell in love with a married American woman, Fanny Osborne, and the next year, against the will of his family, he traveled to San Francisco to marry her, documenting his arduous journey across the continent in the travel essays published much later: The Amature Emigrant (1895) and Across the Plains (1892). He is famous for his classic novels Treasure Island (1883), Kidnapped (1886), and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886). In 1888 he chartered a sloop and sailed with his family across the Pacific in search of a climate in which he could control his tuberculosis. He found this in Samoa, where he lived happily and productively for the last four years of his life.

It's the birthday of the theologan St. Augustine, bishop of Hippo, born in Tagaste in the Roman province of Numidia, now Algeria (354 A.D.). He is known today for his two major works, The Confessions, which detail his early life and his conversion, and The City of God, written after the fall of Rome to the Barbarians in 410 A.D.

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