Jul. 1, 2005

The Dead

by Susan Mitchell

FRIDAY, 1 JULY, 2005
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Poem: "The Dead" by Susan Mitchell from The Water Inside the Water. © Harper Collins. Reprinted with permission.

The Dead

At night the dead come down to the river to drink.
They unburden themselves of their fears,
their worries for us. They take out the old photographs.
They pat the lines in our hands and tell our futures,
which are cracked and yellow.
Some dead find their way to our houses.
They go up to the attics.
They read the letters they sent us, insatiable
for signs of their love.
They tell each other stories.
They make so much noise
they wake us
as they did when we were Children and they stayed up
drinking all night in the kitchen.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day, the 1st of July 1863, the Battle of Gettysburg began. General Robert E. Lee brought his army of Northern Virginia up north after their victory at Chancellorsville. 75,000 Confederate soldiers and about 95,000 Union soldiers met at Gettysburg on this morning in 1863. It was the largest battle in North American history. It went on for three days.

On the third day, General Lee tried to break the battle line at the center, sending a column of troops led by General George Pickett across the valley. The attack was disastrous. More than half the Confederate soldiers in the charge were killed. Over the course of the battle, the Confederates lost about 28,000 soldiers, the Union Army lost about 20,000.

After the battle, a Union general said to a captured Confederate major, "With a few more men you would have gained your independence right here."

It's the birthday of the novelist Jean Stafford, born in Covina, California (1915). Her father lost most of the family's money on the stock market. They lived in poverty and moved to Boulder, Colorado. Stafford went to college, where she began dating a young poet named Robert Lowell. They married in 1940.

At the age of 44 she published her first novel, Boston Adventure. It was a best-seller. Soon afterward, her marriage with Lowell fell apart. She wrote The Mountain Lion, The Catherine Wheel, and published many stories with the New Yorker magazine. She struggled with alcoholism most of her life.

Her Collected Stories won the Pulitzer Prize in 1969. Stafford died ten years later, and left her entire estate to her cleaning woman.

It was on this day in 1938, the Superman comic book made its first appearance. The "Man of Steel" was created by Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster, both teenagers. Superman hid behind the persona of the mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent. He could leap tall buildings in a single bound, run faster than a speeding bullet, and possessed the strength of 200 men.

It's the birthday of novelist James M. Cain, born in Annapolis, Maryland (1892). He was 40 years old—in the middle of the Great Depression—trying to support his wife and children as a reporter, when he read a newspaper article about a woman who'd murdered her husband so she could take over his gas station. He was fascinated by the idea that someone so ordinary could be so ruthless, and it gave him the idea for his first novel, The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934). It was a big best-seller, followed by Mildred Pierce and Double Indemnity.

And it's the birthday of editor William Strunk Jr., born in Cincinnati (1869). He taught English at Cornell University for 46 years, and wrote the little book The Elements of Style, which was later revised by E.B. White.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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