Dec. 31, 2007
Poem: "Testament" by Hayden Carruth, from Scrambled Eggs and Whiskey: Poems 1991-1995. © Copper Canyon Press, 1996. Reprinted with permission.(buy now)
So often it has been displayed to us, the hourglass
with its grains of sand drifting down,
not as an object in our world
but as a sign, a symbol, our lives
drifting down grain by grain,
sifting away I'm sure everyone must
see this emblem somewhere in the mind.
Yet not only our lives drift down. The stuff
of ego with which we began, the mass
in the upper chamber, filters away
as love accumulates below. Now
I am almost entirely love. I have been
to the banker, the broker, those strange
people, to talk about unit trusts,
annuities, CDs, IRAs, trying
to leave you whatever I can after
I die. I've made my will, written
you a long letter of instructions.
I think about this continually.
What will you do? How
will you live? You can't go back
to cocktail waitressing in the casino.
And your poetry? It will bring you
at best a pittance in our civilization,
a widow's mite, as mine has
for forty-five years. Which is why
I leave you so little. Brokers?
Unit trusts? I'm no financier doing
the world's great business. And the sands
in the upper glass grow few. Can I leave
you the vale of ten thousand trilliums
where we buried our good cat Pokey
across the lane to the quarry?
Maybe the tulips I planted under
the lilac tree? Or our red-bellied
woodpeckers who have given us so
much pleasure, and the rabbits
and the deer? And kisses? And
love-makings? All our embracings?
I know millions of these will be still
unspent when the last grain of sand
falls with its whisper, its inconsequence,
on the mountain of my love below.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It's the birthday of Catharine Read Williams, born in Providence, Rhode Island (1790), who wrote Fall River: An Authentic Narrative (1833), one of the earliest examples of public reporting in the United States. It was an account of the mysterious death of Sarah Cornell, a young mill worker whose body was found hanging from a pole of a haystack one winter day in 1832. She was several months pregnant, and her death was ruled a suicide until they found a note in her belongings that read: "If I am missing enquire of the Rev. Mr. Avery of Bristol." Reverend Ephraim Avery was a prominent Methodist minister, a married man with several children. After the trial the reverend was acquitted on all counts. Catharine Read Williams exposed the corruption of the New England clergy when she wrote about the sleepy town of Fall River, warning readers that "even here, has murder stalked abroad, amidst scenes of nature's loveliness."
It's the birthday of the woman Martin Luther King, Jr. called "The Queen of American Folk Music," Odetta, born Odetta Holmes Filious, in Birmingham, Alabama (1930). She thought at first that she'd be an opera singer, but she heard folk music in San Francisco and decided that was the kind of music that said what she wanted to say. A reviewer once said, "Odetta can't sing 'folk' at all, because she doesn't really sound like a person singing, let alone like the person next door singing. She sounds more like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir."
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