Apr. 30, 2007

The Gardeners

by Jack Ridl

MONDAY, 30 APRIL, 2007
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Poem: "The Gardeners" by Jack Ridl, from Broken Symmetry. © Wayne State University Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

The Gardeners

In the spring she
drops the seeds, he
covers them. He
digs up the weeds.
She cuts the flowers.
She takes the blooms
and puts them in
every room. They soar
red from the tables, sprout
yellow from the shelves,
hang purple from
the ceiling, blue
from the edges of
lampshades. Clusters
of flowers sit in
tiny pots on every
windowsill, in open
cupboards, behind
the sink. He stands
beside her as she tosses
all the wilted leaves
into a rusty bucket.
This house is heaven's
door, the air gathering
the bashful smells of
blossoms, roots, cut
stems, wet dirt, new
and rotting leaves.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1789 that George Washington was sworn in as the first President of the United States of America.

The inauguration was held in New York City. Though New York had been the unofficial capital of the United States for some time, many people thought it was the wrong city for the new government, because it was still a very pro-British City. Upper-class New Yorkers imitated the British in their clothing, in their interior decorating, and in their horse-drawn carriages. Many New Yorkers even celebrated the king's birthday.

But if some American patriots were reluctant for Washington to be inaugurated in New York City, Washington was reluctant to be inaugurated at all. He had very little experience as a politician, and he worried that he might be a complete failure as a president. He said, "I feel like a culprit who is going to the place of his execution."

He hoped to make a quiet entry into New York, with little ceremony. Instead, his weeklong journey from Virginia to New York became a giant parade, with crowds of people cheering him as he passed through each town on his route. For the last part of his journey, Washington had to take a barge across the Hudson River from New Jersey to New York. A boat next to his was filled with musicians, but none of the music was audible over the sound of cannons being fired from the shore.

The inauguration ceremony was performed on the balcony of Federal Hall a few days later, on this day in 1789. Thousands of people gathered in the streets to watch Washington take the oath of office. Many people had speculated about what he would wear: a military uniform or the clothes of a king. Instead, Washington wore a plain brown suit made with cloth from a mill in Connecticut. He later said that he hoped it would soon be unfashionable for an American gentleman to appear in any other dress than one of American manufacture. He took the oath, and then Chancellor Robert Livingston shouted, "Long live George Washington, President of the United States!"

It was on this day in 1939 that the New York World's Fair opened to the public. The theme of the fair was The World of Tomorrow. Planners built the fairground on Flushing Meadows, which had been a garbage dump.

It was at that fair that many Americans first saw the products they would enjoy after World War II, including television, long-distance phone service, air conditioners, refrigerators, FM radio, fluorescent lighting, and washing machines. There were prototypes of the early helicopter, called an autogiro, which was basically a plane with a propeller on top. There were dioramas showing model utopian cities of the future, where everyone would soon have fax machines and videophones. The most popular exhibit was General Motors' Futurama, which was a scale model of an American city in 1960, with futuristic homes, cars shaped like flying saucers, and an advanced superhighway system with a speed limit of a hundred miles per hour. The Futurama exhibit popularized the term "aerodynamic." Visitors to the exhibit were given a small blue-and-white pin that said, "I Have Seen the Future."

It's the birthday of singer and songwriter Willie Nelson, born in the small farming community of Abbott, Texas (1933). As a young man, he wrote songs and performed at honky-tonks with names like the County Dump and the Bloody Bucket. Then, in 1959, he wrote "Night Life," a song that was eventually recorded by more than 70 artists and sold over 30 million copies. He only made $150 from the song, because he sold the copyright. But he used that money to buy a second-hand Buick, and he drove in that Buick to Nashville, hoping to become a country music star.

He spent the next decade writing songs for other country singers, but after getting frustrated by Nashville, he went back to Texas and started recording his own albums. In 1975, he recorded Red Headed Stranger, a concept album about a preacher on the run after murdering his wife and her new lover. At the time, many country singers were backed by orchestras and backup singers, but Nelson recorded the album with just his acoustic guitar and a few other instruments. No one thought it would be a hit, but it sold millions of copies, and inspired a traditional country music revival.

It's the birthday of John Crowe Ransom, born in Pulaski, Tennessee (1888). He was a poet and literary critic, and one of the most influential American literature professors of the 20th century. He was one of the first people to argue that American schools should be teaching American literature, not just European, and that students should be reading modern poetry, not just the classics.

It was on this day in 1900 that the legendary train engineer Casey Jones died in a train wreck. He was driving the Cannon Ball express from Memphis, Tennessee, to Canton, Mississippi, trying to make up time because the train was overdue, when his fireman warned him that there was another train up ahead. He ordered his fireman to jump, but he stayed on the train, one hand on the brake and the other on the whistle. Though the Cannon Ball crashed and Jones was killed, the passengers were saved because of his efforts to slow the train down.

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