Tuesday

Aug. 12, 2003

Evening on the Lawn

by Gary Soto

TUESDAY, 12 AUGUST 2003
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Poem: "Evening on the Lawn," by Gary Soto from One Kind of Faith (Chronicle Books).

Evening on the Lawn

I sat on the lawn watching the half-hearted moon rise,
The gnats orbiting the peach pit that I spat out
When the sweetness was gone. I was twenty,
Wet behind the ears from my car wash job,
And suddenly rising to my feet when I saw in early evening
A cloud roll over a section of stars.
It was boiling, a cloud
Churning in one place and washing those three or four stars.
Excited, I lay back down,
My stomach a valley, my arms twined with new rope,
My hair a youthful black. I called my mother and stepfather,
And said something amazing was happening up there.
They shaded their eyes from the porch light.
They looked and looked before my mom turned
The garden hose onto a rosebush and my stepfather scolded the cat
To get the hell off the car. The old man grumbled
About missing something on TV,
The old lady made a face
When mud splashed her slippers. How you bother,
She said for the last time, the screen door closing like a sigh.
I turned off the porch light, undid my shoes.
The cloud boiled over those stars until it was burned by their icy fire.
The night was now clear. The wind brought me a scent
Of a place where I would go alone,
Then find others, all barefoot.
In time, each of us would boil clouds
And strike our childhood houses
With lightning.


Literary Notes:

It's the birthday of English poet Robert Southey, born in Bristol, England (1774). He was one of the leading poets of his day, along with Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth. Today, he's remembered for "The Story of the Three Bears" that he published anonymously in a collection called The Doctor (1837). He said his uncle had told him the story as a child. It was about an old woman who invades the house of three bears, tries out their chairs, their porridge, and their beds, and then jumps out the window when they come home. The story was rewritten many times by other authors. In the later versions, the old woman became a little girl and she was named Goldilocks.

It's the birthday of Katherine Lee Bates, born in Falmouth, Massachusetts (1859). She was a poet and professor of English at Wellsley College. In the summer of 1893 she traveled with a group of teachers to Colorado and hiked to the top of Pikes Peak, near Colorado Springs. She said, "I was looking out over the sea-like expanse of fertile country spreading away so far under those ample skies, [when] the opening lines of [a poem] floated into my mind." By the time she left Colorado Springs, she had written four stanzas in her notebook of what would become "America the Beautiful." The poem was published on July 4th, 1895, and it was set to music about 10 years later. It begins:

"O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!"

It's the birthday of the woman who invented the characters Dick and Jane to help teach children how to read, Zerna Sharp, born in Hillisburg, Indiana (1889). Sharp's idea was to use pictures and repetition to teach children new words. She took her idea to Dr. William S. Gray, who had been studying the way children learn to read, and he hired her to create a series of textbooks. She didn't write the books, but she created the characters Dick, Jane, their sister Sally, their dog Spot, and their cat Puff. Each story introduced five new words, one on each page. The books were used in elementary schools from the 1930s to 1972, and by 1960 they were used by 85 percent of all elementary schools in the United States.



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