Sunday

Jul. 5, 2009

A Warm Summer in San Francisco

by Carolyn Miller

Although I watched and waited for it every day,
somehow I missed it, the moment when everything reached
the peak of ripeness. It wasn't at the solstice; that was only
the time of the longest light. It was sometime after that, when
the plants had absorbed all that sun, had taken it into themselves
for food and swelled to the height of fullness. It was in July,
in a dizzy blaze of heat and fog, when on some nights
it was too hot to sleep, and the restaurants set half their tables
on the sidewalks; outside the city, down the coast,
the Milky Way floated overhead, and shooting stars
fell from the sky over the ocean. One day the garden
was almost overwhelmed with fruition:
My sweet peas struggled out of the raised bed onto the mulch
of laurel leaves and bark and pods, their brilliantly colored
sunbonnets of rose and stippled pink, magenta and deep purple
pouring out a perfume that was almost oriental. Black-eyed Susans
stared from the flower borders, the orange cherry tomatoes
were sweet as candy, the corn fattened in its swaths of silk,
hummingbirds spiraled by in pairs, the bees gave up
and decided to live in the lavender. At the market,
surrounded by black plums and rosy plums and sugar prunes
and white-fleshed peaches and nectarines, perfumey melons
and mangos, purple figs in green plastic baskets,
clusters of tiny Champagne grapes and piles of red-black cherries
and apricots freckled and streaked with rose, I felt tears
come into my eyes, absurdly, because I knew
that summer had peaked and was already passing
away. I felt very close then to understanding
the mystery; it seemed to me that I almost knew
what it meant to be alive, as if my life had swelled
to some high moment of response, as if I could
reach out and touch the season, as if I were inside
its body, surrounded by sweet pulp and juice,
shimmering veins and ripened skin.

"A Warm Summer in San Francisco" by Carolyn Miller, from Light, Moving. © Sixteen Rivers Press, 2009. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of French writer and artist Jean Cocteau, (books by this author) born in Maisons-Laffitte, France (1889), who hung out with Picasso, Proust, and Erik Satie. Cocteau was nicknamed "the Frivolous Prince" after the title of a poetry collection he'd published at age 21. Cocteau called poetry the foundation of art, and a "religion without hope."

He practiced an unorthodox brand of Catholicism, joined a clandestine brotherhood, and liked to redecorate churches. He said, "The worst tragedy for a poet is to be admired through being misunderstood."

It was on this day in 1937 that SPAM came onto the market. The canned meat product from Hormel Foods Corporation was given its name by a contest winner; the prize for his ingenuity was $100. On one occasion, a Hormel spokesperson said the name was short for "Shoulder of Pork and Ham"; on another, a company official said it was a conflation of the words "spice and ham." All sorts of parodic acronyms have circulated over the years, including "Something Posing As Meat." The original recipe, still sold as the "Classic" flavor, contains pork shoulder and ham meat, salt, water, sugar, and sodium nitrate. There's a gelatinous glaze on top, which forms like that after the broth cools down.

Spam sold in the Americas is mostly produced in Austin, Minnesota — "Spam Town USA" and home of the SPAM museum. Hawaii's residents consume more Spam per capita than the residents of any other state, and the canned meat has been nicknamed "The Hawaiian Steak." Spam is the main course in the Israeli Defense Force's combat meal kits, but the pork is replaced by beef so that it's kosher.

There's a Monty Python sketch that came out in 1970 where the actors go into a café and try to order breakfast, but almost everything on the menu contains Spam. One woman doesn't want Spam in her breakfast and gets into an argument with the waitress, who tells her that the menu consists of "Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, baked beans, Spam, Spam, Spam, and Spam." It's from this Monty Python sketch that "spam" acquired the use so familiar today: unwanted or unsolicited e-mail. The first recorded use of the word in this way is in 1993. It's also become a verb in the English language, for the action of sending out spam.

And the word "spam" itself, untranslated, is now a noun in French, Portuguese, and Vietnamese. The verb "to spam" in German is "spammen"; in Czech the verb is "spamovat"; and in Italian it's "spammare." There's a new Monty Python's musical, SPAMALOT, currently playing in San Francisco.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®

 









«

»

  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
The Writer's Almanac on Facebook


The Writer's Almanac on Twitter

Subscribe to our daily newsletter for poems, prose and literary history every morning
An interview with Jeffrey Harrison at The Writer's Almanac Bookshelf
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show
O, What a Luxury

Although he has edited several anthologies of his favorite poems, O, What a Luxury: Verses Lyrical, Vulgar, Pathetic & Profound forges a new path for Garrison Keillor, as a poet of light verse. Purchase O, What a Luxury »