Jun. 24, 2007

Celebration for June 24

by Thomas McGrath

SUNDAY, 24 JUNE, 2007
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Poem: "Celebration for June 24" by Thomas McGrath, from Movie at the End of the World. © Swallow Press/Ohio University Press, 1972. Reprinted with permission.

Celebration for June 24

For Marian

Before you, I was living on an island
And all around the seas of that lonely coast
Cast up their imitation jewels, cast
Their fables and enigmas, questioning, sly.
I never solved them, or ever even heard,
Being perfect in innocence: unconscious of self;
Such ignorance of history was all my wealth—
A geographer sleeping in the shadow of virgins.

But though my maps were made of private countries
I was a foreigner in all of them after you had come,
For when you spoke, it was with a human tongue
And never understood by my land-locked gentry.
Then did the sun shake down a million bells
And birds bloom on bough in wildest song!
Phlegmatic hills went shivering with flame;
The chestnut trees were manic at their deepest boles!

It is little strange that nature was riven in her frame
At this second creation, known to every lover—
How we are shaped and shape ourselves in the desires of the other
Within the tolerance of human change.
Out of the spring's innocence this revolution,
Created on a kiss, announced the second season,
The summer of private history, of growth, through whose sweet sessions
The trees lift toward the sun, each leaf a revelation.

Our bodies, coupled in the moonlight's album,
Proclaimed our love against the outlaw times
Whose signature was written in the burning towns.
Your face against the night was my medallion.
Your coming forth aroused unlikely trumpets
In the once-tame heart. They heralded your worth
Who are my lodestar, my bright and ultimate North,
Marrying all points of my personal compass.

This is the love that now invents my fear
Which nuzzles me like a puppy each violent day.
It is poor comfort that the mind comes, saying:
What is one slim girl to the people's wars?
Still, my dice are loaded: having had such luck,
Having your love, my life would still be whole
Though I should die tomorrow. I have lived it all.
—and love is never love, that cannot give love up.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of essayist and short-story writer Ambrose Bierce, (books by this author) born near Horse Cave Creek, Ohio (1842). He was the second person in his county to volunteer for the Union Army at the outbreak of the Civil War, and he fought in some of the bloodiest battles of the war, including the Battle of Shiloh. After the war, he headed west to San Francisco, a boomtown of 60,000 people, full of outlaws, gamblers, sailors, and goldmine millionaires. It was also a city full of writers, with six newspapers covering city life. One of the writers who had gotten started around the same time as Bierce was Mark Twain. But Bierce managed to make a name for himself almost immediately.

Bierce made a living as a journalist, writing social criticism, but he also began to write short stories about the Civil War, some of the bleakest war stories ever written. They were stories with no heroes and no happy endings. The main characters often died because of freak accidents or stupidity. He had a hard time getting the stories published, but when they finally came out many of them were called masterpieces. His most famous story is "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," (1890).

He's also remembered for his Devil's Dictionary (1906), a collection of ironic definitions, such as, "Love. A temporary insanity curable by marriage." And, "Saint. A dead sinner revised and edited."

It's the birthday of poet Stephen Dunn, (books by this author) born in Forest Hills, New York (1939). He published more than 10 books of poetry before his collection Different Hours won the Pulitzer Prize in 2000. His collection Local Visitations came out in 2003. He said, "I think one of my early motivations for writing was that other people's versions of experience didn't gel with my own. It was a gesture toward sanity to try to get the world right for myself. I've since learned that if you get it right for yourself, it often has resonance for others."

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




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