Apr. 9, 2009

Keep America Beautiful

by Kenneth Hart

Somebody hung out his red, white and blue
laundry on the highway overpass outside Providence,

a short distance from the prison crew picking up
our Cheetos bags and burger wrappers

and monster drink cups. We're stalled in traffic;
bumper stickers announce the price of freedom,

claim liberty is our right.
The guard in mirror sunglasses leans against

the correctional facility van, props a shotgun on his knee
like he's auditioning for a movie. He's protecting

our freedom to litter from the inmates' desire
to be free to litter. We inch along;

past the Budweiser billboards and the ad haiku,
brakes wheeze — some like an espresso machine,

some like an aging soprano with emphysema.
It looks like this is going to take awhile, here

beneath the soiled laundry of the republic
which clings to a chain link fence.

Maybe the seagull floating above us
sees a few things that we can't.

He's probably scavenging for something
we've left behind.

"Keep America Beautiful" by Kenneth Hart, from Uh Oh Time. © Anhinga Press, 2008. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of the French poet Charles Baudelaire, (books by this author) born in Paris (1821). He wrote Les Fleurs du mal (1857), or The Flowers of Evil.

It was on this day in 1865 that General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Ulysses S. Grant, effectively ending the American Civil War. The generals met at the Appomattox Court House. Lee was wearing his best gray Confederate uniform, with a sword at his side, and Grant wore a muddy private's shirt. The two men talked briefly, remembering their first meeting during the Mexican War, and then discussed the terms of surrender. Grant said he was "sad and depressed at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, the worst for which people ever fought." When the Union soldiers began to cheer, Grant ordered them to be silent out of respect. Lee rode back to camp, and when he reached his tent, he said, "Boys, I have done the best I could for you. Go home now, and if you make as good citizens as you have soldiers, you will do well, and I shall always be proud of you."

It's the birthday of Hugh Hefner, born in Chicago, Illinois (1926). He went to college and majored in psychology, and he wrote book reviews in student publications, including one of Alfred C. Kinsey's Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. He wrote: "Dr. Kinsey's book disturbs me … our hypocrisy on matters of sex have led to incalculable frustration, delinquency, and unhappiness." He went on to found Playboy magazine. Last year, Hugh Hefner was the subject of a biography by Steven Watts: Mr. Playboy: Hugh Hefner and the American Dream (2008).

It's the birthday of children's author Joseph Krumgold, (books by this author) born in Jersey City (1908). He worked as a screenwriter and producer, and the U.S. State Department hired him to make a documentary about Mexican-American families in rural New Mexico. His film focused on a young boy in a family of sheepherders, and a publisher suggested that he write a children's book, and that became …And Now Miguel (1953). It won the Newbery Medal, as did his next book for children, Onion John (1959).

It's the birthday of the novelist Elizabeth Crook, (books by this author) born in Houston, Texas (1959). She's the author of The Night Journal (2006). She said, "The major trick to writing good historical fiction is not in compiling research or knowing the details, but in knowing which details to leave out."

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