Aug. 23, 2007

To My Yugoslavian In-Laws

by Debra Gingerich

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Poem: "To My Yugoslavian In-Laws" by Debra Gingerich, from Where We Start. © DreamSeeker Books, 2007. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

To My Yugoslavian In-Laws

If we could speak,
I would tell you that we have
trees here too, and rivers.
I know how to hammer
a nail. Transatlantic phone calls
are expensive, even for us
with our two cars, dishwasher
and American salaries. That he
will not get lazy or forget
about the ways he needed to make money
during the war, the merchandise
exchanged in dark corners of Turkey.
He is still thankful for good health.
He passes on every kiss
you tell him to give me.
I would admit that he misses
the stone beaches of the Adriatic,
he accepts the Atlantic's murky water
as part of the compromise. He thinks
Lancaster's streets are too vacant
at night and there is no place
to ride a bike. Also, that I wouldn't take
your name and will never
believe the wine in the cup
turns to blood. That he and I can't
agree on a slipcover for the couch.
That there is no perfect place
for anyone.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of poet and novelist Edgar Lee Masters (books by this author), born in Garnett, Kansas (1869). He was one of the first writers to portray the American small town as a place full of secrets, lies, and shocking scandals in his book Spoon River Anthology (1915), a series of poems in the voices of the dead citizens in a fictional graveyard. He published Spoon River Anthology in 1915 under a pseudonym, because he thought it would be controversial, and he was right. The book was hugely scandalous, full of more frank detail about sexual matters than any other book published in America at the time. The critic Amy Lowell wrote, "Spoon River is one long chronicle of rapes, seductions, liaisons, and perversions. One wonders, if life in our little Western cities is as bad as this, why everyone does not commit suicide."

But the scandal made the book a best seller. Spoon River Anthology went through 70 printings, and it allowed Masters to retire from his law practice. It changed the way Americans thought about small towns, which had been considered merely innocent or boring places. American writers had focused almost exclusively on big cities. But Edgar Lee Masters turned small towns into places of intrigue, and American writers have been exploring the closets and bedrooms of small towns ever since.

The people in Masters's hometown were angry for decades about the slanderous things Masters had written about their citizens. It took more than 50 years before the town where Masters went to high school stocked Spoon River Anthology in its library.

It was on this day in 2000 that 51 million Americans sat in front of their television sets to watch the final two-hour episode of a strange new game show called Survivor. It was the second most watched television broadcast that year, coming in second only to the Super Bowl.

The show took 16 ethnically and demographically diverse Americans and put them on a deserted tropical island, where they had to live in the rough, compete as teams for privileges and prizes, and vote one person off the island each week. The last person remaining would get $1 million.

The show caught on in part because of the backstabbing intrigue between the contestants. Everything they did or said was filmed by one of eight cameras. Each one-hour episode of the show was edited down from more than 100 hours of video. So viewers of the program got to watch as the residents on the island became friends with each other, then formed alliances, and then slowly double-crossed and betrayed each other down to the last person standing.

On the final episode, viewers were horrified when the show's most treacherous and seemingly heartless contestant, the man who had orchestrated many of the conspiracies and lies, Richard Hatch, won the prize.

It's the birthday of humorist and literary critic Will Cuppy (books by this author), born in Auburn, Indiana (1884). He said, "All Modern Men are descended from a Wormlike creature, but it shows more on some people."

It's the birthday of dancer, choreographer, and film director Gene Kelly (movies by this creator), born in Pittsburgh (1912). He tailored his dance to fit the camera and its movements. He danced with an image of himself in Cover Girl (1944), an animated mouse in Anchors Aweigh (1945), and in a downpour in Singin' in the Rain (1952).

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




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