Dec. 18, 2001

Detail Waiting for a Train

by Stanley Plumly

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Poem: "Detail Waiting for a Train," by Stanley Plumly from The Marriage in the Trees (The Ecco Press).

Detail Waiting for a Train

The main floor of Penn Station, early,
the first commuters arriving, leaving,
the man outstretched on his coat,
wide circles of survivors forming.

He's half in, half out of his clothes,
being kissed and cardio-shocked,
though he was likely dead before he landed.

This goes on for minutes, minutes more,
until the medics unhook the vanished heart,
move him onto the cot and cover him
with the snow-depth of a sheet

and wheel him the fluorescent length
of the hall through gray freight doors
that open on their own and close at will.

It's the birthday of film director Steven Spielberg, born in Cincinnati, Ohio (1947). His father was an electrical engineer, his mother a concert pianist. He started making home movies as a boy, studied film in college, though he majored in English, and got a television contract after winning awards for a short subject called Amblin' (1969). His first assignment was to direct Joan Crawford in Night Gallery (1970). His breakout success was Duel (1971), a story about a salesman threatened by a truck driver whom he never sees. Spielberg shot it in sixteen days for about $350,000. It grossed more that $5 million in theaters overseas and launched a career that's included several of the most successful films of all time.

It's the birthday of playwright Christopher Fry, born Christopher Harris in Bristol, England (1907). He had always wanted to write verse plays, and had his first triumph with The Lady's Not for Burning (1948), an ironic comedy set in medieval times.

It's the birthday of jazz arranger and bandleader Fletcher Henderson, born in Cuthbert, Georgia (1897), the son of teachers. He accompanied dozens of blues singers, including Bessie Smith, on their recordings, and soon put together his own band, which came to include such musicians as Louis Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins, and Roy Eldridge. Nicknamed "Smack," he was one of the first arrangers to adapt jazz to a big-band format, with his style becoming the standard. He never had much financial success as a bandleader, but his arrangements for Benny Goodman made him one of the prime shapers of swing music, especially his version of Jelly Roll Morton's "King Porter Stomp," which became the virtual anthem of the swing era.

It's the birthday of urban planner Robert Moses, born in New Haven, Connecticut (1888).

It's the birthday of baseball player Ty Cobb, born in Narrows, Georgia (1886). His lifetime mark of 892 stolen bases was beaten only in 1979, and his record of 4,189 total hits stood until 1986. He still holds the records for lifetime batting average (.366), runs scored (2,246), and batting titles (12). He batted over .400 three times, and batted over .300 for 23 years in a row.

It's the birthday of artist Paul Klee, born near Bern, Switzerland (1879).

It's the birthday of writer Hector Hugh Munro, better known as "Saki," born in Akyab, Burma (1870). His satirical short stories became standard features in several newspapers, starting around 1908. They usually exposed the hypocrisy and cruelty of power, sometimes using surprise endings and elements of the supernatural. The best-known are "The Open Window," "Sredni Vashtar," "Tobermory," and "The Schartz-Metterklume Method." He was killed in action in World War One when he stood up in a trench to admonish a soldier for lighting a cigarette, and was shot by a German sniper.

It's the birthday of composer Edward MacDowell, born in New York City (1861). He studied in Europe for several years, performing and publishing his First Piano Suite (1882) under the patronage of Franz Liszt. After many productive years in Germany, he and his American wife moved to Boston, where he composed two of his most popular piano works, Woodland Sketches (1896), which includes the pieces "To a Wild Rose," and "To a Water Lily," and New England Idylls (1902). After his death in 1908, Marian MacDowell established the artist's colony that bears their name at their farm in New Hampshire.

It's the birthday of composer and clergyman Charles Wesley, born in Lincolnshire, England (1707). He helped his older brother, John, found the Methodist movement, which began with a club Charles had formed at Oxford for the pursuit of spiritual growth. Wesley wrote more than 5,000 hymns, including "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" and "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling."

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