Dec. 18, 2007


by Gary Short

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Poem: "Dust" by Gary Short, from Flying Over Sonny Liston. © University of Nevada Press, 1996. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)


     There is dust on everything in Nevada
           - William Stafford

Dust settles on clocks, accumulates
& clings like boredom. There is gray dust
blurring bedroom mirrors, gilded dust swirling
in pieces of sunlight
falling through the broken ceiling,
& the waltz of dust on the floor
of the condemned dance hall.
Dust silvers fingertips holding an old book.
Dust on piano keys, on white tablecloths,
windowsills, bare lightbulbs
that now throw a dusty yellow light.
Dust that sleeps under a blanket of dust.
Dust dulling the rust-freckled barbed wire,
fallen down, keeping out no one, keeping no one in.
Wind dervishes the desert, & there is dust
thick as thirst in a cowboy's throat.
After a flurry, dust is the calm
        on everything:
in the ocher of a dry riverbed, a lizard
scribbles his tail in dust; dust fills the tracks
& denies that coyote passed this way;
a sun-bleached dust furs cow skulls.
There is the dust of the dead—
& in winter, snow,
the cold shadow of dust.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the British writer known as Saki, (books by this author) born Hector Munro in Akyab, Burma (1870). Munro's mother was killed by a runaway cow and he was raised by his two straight-laced aunts in Scotland. His stories often drew from the experiences he had as a child. In one, "Sredni Vashtar," a young boy's pet weasel kills the woman who looks after him.

It is the birthday of hymn writer Charles Wesley, (books by this author) born in Epworth, England (1708), who wrote more than 6,000 hymns, including "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," and "Rejoice, the Lord is King." Wesley's verses make up a sixth of the official hymns of the Methodist Episcopal Church today.

Baseball legend Ty Cobb was born today Tyrus Raymond Cobb, in Narrows, Georgia (1886). By the time he had retired from baseball, Ty Cobb had set more than 90 records, including highest lifetime batting average (.367), most batting titles (12), and most runs scored (2,245). He also stole 892 bases during his career. It was rumored that Ty Cobb kept his spikes filed to razor-sharp points to cut infielders when he slid into base.

On this day in 1860, John Crittenden, a U.S. senator from Kentucky, introduced a measure that he hoped would forestall the Civil War. The Crittenden Compromise re-established that slavery would be protected south of the Mason-Dixon Line. The measure didn't pass. And it is thought that Abraham Lincoln's immediate rejection of the compromise paved the way for secession. Crittenden died during the war, and his sons were major generals on opposing sides, one for the Union, the other for the Confederacy.

It's the birthday of Robert Moses, one of the most powerful unelected city officials in American history. As the head of the Long Island State Park Commission, Moses developed a series of parks, including Jones Beach, which transformed an unused sandbar into one of the most popular seaside parks on the Eastern seaboard. With his new popularity, he decided to run for office, and though he was a great city planner, Robert Moses was a terrible campaigner. When he ran for governor in 1934, he lost by a wider margin than any other candidate in the history of New York. So, he decided to work behind the scenes and held numerous appointive offices, once occupying 12 positions at the same time. He had enough connections to draft and pass his own legislation, draw from his own personal treasuries and even command his own police force. And he used all that power to build modern New York City. His projects included the Lincoln Tunnel, the New York Coliseum, The United Nations headquarters, and Shea Stadium. He oversaw the creation of 15 bridges, 2 million acres of state parks, three hydroelectric dams, and 658 playgrounds.

It is the birthday of filmmaker Steven Spielberg, born in Cincinnati, Ohio (1946). His parents had a difficult marriage, and young Spielberg escaped the house during the day and made amateur movies with his father's Super-8 camera. He made two films about World War II and a movie about a UFO invasion, starring his sisters as victims. Steven Spielberg became famous with Jaws (1975), which was the very first summer blockbuster, and he topped his success seven years later with E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), about a young boy recovering from the breakup of his parents' marriage when he befriends an alien left behind by his spaceship. The movie E.T. became the fourth-highest-grossing film of all time.

It was on this day in 1737 that violin maker Antonio Stradivari died in Cremona, Italy. Most often referred to by his Latin name, Stradivarius, he developed a violin design that has served as a model ever since.

It's the birthday of actor, playwright, and activist Ossie Davis, (books by this author) born Raiford Chatman Davis in Cogdell, Georgia (1917). The nickname Ossie came from a mispronunciation of his initials, "R.C." He wrote the play Paul Robeson: All American, which is still performed for young audiences. And as an actor, Davis is best known for his roles in A Raisin in the Sun, Do the Right Thing, and Jungle Fever.

It is the birthday of playwright Christopher Fry, (books by this author) born in Bristol, England (1907). He is best known for the play The Lady's Not for Burning (1948), starring Lawrence Olivier, about an ex-soldier in the Middle Ages who wants to die and about a young woman accused of being a witch. His plays were written in verse about people who admired ideas and felt honest love for each other, and they fell out of favor in the '60s.

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