Sep. 26, 2007

To the Man in a Loden Coat

by Deborah Garrison

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Poem: "To the Man in a Loden Coat" by Deborah Garrison, from The Second Child. © Random House, 2007. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

To the Man in a Loden Coat

Hey, mister
man in a loden coat
standing in front of me
on the escalator and blocking my
I know
I'm self absorbed,
particularly at this hour,
5:22 to be precise and I need
to make the 5:25 home—
don't you know that in this city,
in this life, we
walk on the left,
stand on the right?

Don't tell me to chill out,
don't tell me to "breathe,"
I hate breathing
I mean unless it is happening
without my knowing it,
which is, thank God, most of the time,

and don't tell me life is long
because it actually isn't
it's all I can do not to
give you a sweet shove
on your rich loden back,
same as all the bottled-up
left-lane travelers
behind me want to do
to my own navy-clad shoulder,
a nice blue to your green,
like water for the earth,
sky for the forest,
green and blue a tea for two,
etc., among the vistas
that call me home now,
at 5:23, about to miss the bus,
so would you please


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of composer George Gershwin, born in Brooklyn (1898), who made his name as a composer with the piece Rhapsody in Blue (1924), which he was forced to write on short order because his friend Paul Whiteman wanted to put on a jazz concert and decided to advertise that the concert would include a new piece by the young George Gershwin. Gershwin only learned about the concert when he saw the newspaper advertisement, and he suddenly had only six weeks to produce something. He came up with the main theme while playing piano for friends at a party.

The concert began at 2:30 p.m. on February 12, 1924, and it consisted of 23 pieces of music. The orchestra parts were finished, but the piano part was left blank, so that Gershwin could improvise on stage. In the middle of the concert, the ventilation system broke down, and people were getting restless. Several people had gotten up to leave when "Rhapsody in Blue" was announced, and Gershwin came out on stage to play the piano with the orchestra. When the opening clarinet part was played, the people who had been getting ready to leave went back to their seats. Rhapsody in Blue soon became one of the most famous and popular pieces of serious music ever composed by an American.

Gershwin also wrote Concerto in F (1925) and An American in Paris (1928). And he wrote the famous folk opera Porgy and Bess (1935), which opened in New York on October 10, 1935, but it wasn't truly successful until after Gershwin died of brain cancer in 1937. He was just 38.

It's the birthday of Jane Smiley, (books by this author) born in Los Angeles (1949), who wanted to be a jockey when she was a girl because she loved horses more than anything. But she grew to be more than six feet tall, so she had to give up on that dream and become a writer. Her first big success was the novel A Thousand Acres (1991), a modern retelling of Shakespeare's King Lear, set on an Iowa farm and told from the daughters' perspective. For her research, she drove a combine and read the agribusiness section of The Des Moines Register for a year. A Thousand Acres begins, "At sixty miles per hour, you could pass our farm in a minute." The novel won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992, and its success enabled Smiley to quit teaching and fulfill her dream of owning thoroughbred horses. After she bought a dozen horses, she wrote her novel Horse Heaven (2000), about the world of horse breeding and racing. It was one of the happiest periods of her life. She said, "I'd get up, read something about horses, then go feed the horses. I'd get rid of the children by sending them off to school, then I'd write about horses and read more about horses. Ride the horses, feed the horses again ... it was really wonderful." Her most recent novel is Ten Days in the Hills (2007).

It's the birthday of T. S. (Thomas Stearns) Eliot, (books by this author) born in Saint Louis (1888), who wrote "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" (1915) and "The Waste Land" (1922), inspired mainly by his very unhappy marriage. Virginia Woolf said, "He was one of those poets who live by scratching, and his wife was his itch."

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