Sep. 7, 2007

Three Songs at the End of Summer

by Jane Kenyon

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Poem: "Three Songs at the End of Summer" by Jane Kenyon, from Collected Poems. © Graywolf Press, 2005. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Three Songs at the End of Summer

A second crop of hay lies cut
and turned. Five gleaming crows
search and peck between the rows.
They make a low, companionable squawk,
and like midwives and undertakers
possess a weird authority.

Crickets leap from the stubble,
parting before me like the Red Sea.
The garden sprawls and spoils.

Across the lake the campers have learned
to water ski. They have, or they haven't.
Sounds of the instructor's megaphone
suffuse the hazy air. "Relax! Relax!"

Cloud shadows rush over drying hay,
fences, dusty lane, and railroad ravine.
The first yellowing fronds of goldenrod
brighten the margins of the woods.

Schoolbooks, carpools, pleated skirts;
water, silver-still, and a vee of geese.


The cicada's dry monotony breaks
over me. The days are bright
and free, bright and free.

Then why did I cry today
for an hour, with my whole
body, the way babies cry?


A white, indifferent morning sky,
and a crow, hectoring from its nest
high in the hemlock, a nest as big
as a laundry basket...
In my childhood
I stood under a dripping oak,
while autumnal fog eddied around my feet,
waiting for the school bus
with a dread that took my breath away.

The damp dirt road gave off
this same complex organic scent.

I had the new books—words, numbers,
and operations with numbers I did not
comprehend—and crayons, unspoiled
by use, in a blue canvas satchel
with red leather straps.

Spruce, inadequate, and alien
I stood at the side of the road.
It was the only life I had.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1927 that a man named Philo T. Farnsworth transmitted the first ever all-electronic television picture in history. Farnsworth had gotten the idea for television when he was just 14 years old, living on a potato farm in Idaho. His high school science teacher had gotten him interested in electricity, and he studied electrical engineering in his spare time. One day, he was tilling a potato field, walking with the horse back and forth, when he suddenly had a vision of a machine that could break an image down, line by line, and then reconstruct it on a screen.

He finished high school in just two years and then went to Brigham Young University. But he dropped out to pursue his dream of creating the electric television. He got some investors together and set up a laboratory in San Francisco. And it was there, on this day, that he pointed his Image Dissector at a picture of a single line and turned on the receiver, which showed the same picture of a single line. Farnsworth then rotated the picture 90 degrees, and the people watching the receiver saw it rotate. When the demonstration was complete, Farnsworth said, "There you are, electronic television."

But Farnsworth never got much credit for his invention. He turned down offers from both RCA and General Electric because he wanted to be an independent. But he had little business expertise, and instead of spending his time developing television for a mass audience, he got bogged down in a series of lawsuits. The biggest battle of Farnsworth's life was a court battle with RCA over the control of his patent. RCA claimed that one of their engineers already held a patent on the technology Farnsworth had developed. Farnsworth finally won the case in 1934, but RCA decided to just wait until Farnsworth's patents ran out before they began manufacturing televisions without paying Farnsworth anything.

Farnsworth never became famous for his invention, and later felt that he'd created a kind of monster. He never owned a television himself, and refused to let his son watch it.

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