Jan. 8, 2007

O, Florida, excerpts from

by Daniel Anderson

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Poem: excerpts from "O, Florida" by Daniel Anderson, from Drunk in Sunlight. © The Johns Hopkins University Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

O, Florida

This is the old country,
A land of statuary herons,
Where chevron squads of pelicans patrol
The glittering green shallows of the gulf.
Where color schemes are chiefly melon,
Flamingo pinks, and tropical pastels.
Where all day single-engine planes buzz by.
Their block red-letter advertisements scroll
Across those beefy, milk-white cumuli:
Ponce de León, is this that paradise
You sought, whose tonics might restore
The potency and thrust of youth? The truth
Is that the old grow older here.
Their bones go frail as balsawood.
Strokes slur their speech. Their eyes become
Diminished lakes. We watch them dodder
Down grocery aisles. We see them heft
Their chronic coughs and aches along the beach.
Their sorrows all metastasize — they must —
And yet we seldom say a word
Or spend much time imagining ourselves
In thirty years. Shivering and sweating.
A lukewarm spittle on the chin.
Wide-open hours of waiting and regretting.
The air-conditioned room of our hotel
Looks out on swimming pool and sea.
We've paid good money for the view.
We seek the boredom that they know so well.

Back home, it's thirty-three degrees,
The March rain changing steadily to sleet.
We're only here another day. And if tonight
We eat at Ruby's-by-the-Bay
Or Jack's what difference will it make?
The beach boy, having closed up shop,
Has faced his bath chairs to the west
In regimented rows. Beside
The ponderous and receding tide
Three toasted, golden teenage girls relax.
They're sitting cross-legged in the sand
And posing for a picture that a fourth
Intends to take. Each tosses back her hair
Then feigns a fashion model's runway stare.
Cotton blouses. An almost chilly breeze.
That blush reflection of the sinking sun.
Just listen to them shriek and laugh.
Let memory and love arrest them there.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Elvis Presley, born in Tupelo, Mississippi (1935). He learned to play the guitar when he was 12, and his friends said that he could reproduce perfectly almost anything he heard on the radio. After high school, he got a job as a truck driver for the Crown Electric Company, and he began studying to become an electrician. His career as a recording artist only came about because of his love for his mother.

At the time, the Sun Record Company had a special recording studio where anyone could come in and pay a small fee to record personal records for themselves. In the summer of 1953, Elvis scraped together four dollars to record two songs, "My Happiness" and "That's When Your Heartaches Begin," as a present for his mother.

The recording engineer that day liked Elvis's voice, and somehow those recordings made their way into the hands of producer Sam Phillips, and that was the beginning of Presley's career.

It's the birthday of physicist Stephen Hawking, (books by this author) born in Oxford, England (1942). He went to Oxford University, but never attended lectures. He was bored with most of his classes, because they seemed too easy, and it was only after an oral exam that his professors realized how smart he was. He had gone on to get a Ph.D., and he was just starting to find his courses interesting when he was diagnosed with ALS, a disease that slowly destroys a person's ability to move any part of his or her body, while leaving the brain itself unharmed. His doctors said he probably had two to three years to live.

At first Hawking was utterly depressed, and he considered giving up on everything. But he decided to focus his studies on the mysterious astronomical objects known as black holes, and he developed new theories about how they function and what role they may have played in the origin of the universe.

In 1988, Hawking decided to sum up all the research on physics and astronomy in a book for nonscientists called A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes. It went on to sell almost 10 million copies.

Today is the anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans, which took place on this day in 1815. It was the last major battle of the War of 1812, won with the help of a pirate named Jean Laffite.

The war of 1812 had started for a variety of complicated reasons, but mainly because the United States refused to put up with British control of the Atlantic Ocean while the British were fighting a war with France. When the war started, the United States had only existed for a few decades. By 1814, after just two years of fighting with the British, almost all the buildings in Washington, D.C., had been destroyed, the U.S. treasury was virtually empty, and the British Navy had blockaded every major seaport on the East Coast.

At the Battle of New Orleans, Andrew Jackson managed to fend off the British attempt to take over the mouth of the Mississippi with a ragtag band of volunteers, Indians, and pirates. It was America's greatest triumph in the War of 1812, but it turned out that it took place after the war was over. The United States and Great Britain had signed a treaty, ending the war, on Christmas Eve, a few weeks before the battle. The news of the treaty just hadn't reached New Orleans in time.

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




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