Jul. 4, 2004
Sunday Night in Santa Rosa
Poem: "Sunday Night In Santa Rosa," by Dana Gioia, from Daily Horoscope. © Graywolf Press. Reprinted with permission.
Sunday Night In Santa Rosa
The carnival is over. The high tents,
the palaces of light, are folded flat
and trucked away. A three-time loser yanks
the Wheel of Fortune off the wall. Mice
pick through the garbage by the popcorn stand.
A drunken giant falls asleep beside
the juggler, and the Dog-Faced Boy sneaks off
to join the Serpent Lady for the night.
Wind sweeps ticket stubs along the walk.
The Dead Man loads his coffin on a truck.
Off in a trailer by the parking lot
the radio predicts tomorrow's weather
while a clown stares in a dressing mirror,
takes out a box, and peels away his face.
Literary and Historical Notes:
Today is Independence Day. On this day in 1776, the Second Continental Congress unanimously adopted the Declaration of Independence, and the United States officially broke from the rule of England. The colonists were trying to persuade European nations to be on their side, so they included a long list of complaints about the king.
Twenty-four years later, in 1804, the explorers Lewis and Clark had the first Fourth of July celebration west of the Mississippi. They were traveling through a part of the Midwest that is now Kansas. They stopped at the mouth of a creek on July fourth, and named it Independence Creek in honor of the day. To celebrate, they fired their cannon at sunset and distributed an extra ration of whisky to the men. Just before going to bed, Clark wrote in his diary: "So magnificent a Senerey in a Contry thus Situated far removed from the Sivilised world to be enjoyed by nothing but the Buffalo Elk Deer & Bear in which it abounds."
There were unofficial celebrations of Independence Day from its first anniversary, but it really became a popular holiday after the War of 1812. On the frontier, it was the only time of the year when everyone in the countryside gathered together in one place. There were parades and speeches, and the prettiest and most wholesome girl in the village would be named the Goddess of Liberty. Politicians would get up and call the King of England a skunk and challenge him to a fight. Drunk men in the streets would get into fights and call each other Englishmen. Soon events like ground-breaking ceremonies for the Erie Canal and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroads were scheduled to coincide with July fourth festivities.
It's the birthday of literary critic Lionel Trilling, born in New York City (1905). He was one of the last literary critics that people read even if they weren't English majors. He's best known for a collection of essays published after his death called The Moral Obligation to Be Intelligent (2000).
Trilling said, "Immature artists imitate. Mature artists steal."
It's the birthday of playwright Neil Simon, born in the Bronx in New York City (1927). He's best known for his autobiographical plays Brighton Beach Memoirs (1982) and Biloxi Blues (1984).
It's the birthday of the first great American novelist, Nathaniel Hawthorne, born in Salem, Massachusetts (1804). He's the author of novels such as The Scarlet Letter (1850) and The House of Seven Gables (1851). He came from a family of Puritans, and one of his ancestors was a judge in the witchcraft trials in Salem. His father was a sailor and died at sea when Nathaniel was only four. After his father's death, his mother became a recluse, and rarely left the house. Hawthorne learned from her what he called the "cursed habits of solitude." When he did go out of the house, he took long walks by himself. He loved to climb the steeple of Christ Church and look down on the town beneath him.
In 1849, his mother died, and he wrote in his diary that her death was "the darkest hour I ever lived." Soon after he began work on his novel The Scarlet Letter (1850), about a Puritan woman named Hester Prynne who has to wear the letter "A" on her chest after committing adultery. The novel was a huge success, and Hawthorne became a literary celebrity.
Hawthorne wrote, "Easy reading is damn hard writing."
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®