Monday

Feb. 22, 2010

Beach Attitudes

by Robert Dana

Blessed is the beach, survivor of tides.

And blessed the litter of crown conchs and pen shells, the dead
blue crab in all its electric raiment.

Blessed the nunneries of skimmers,
scuttering and rising, wheeling and falling and settling, ruffling
their red and black-and-white habits.

And blessed be the pacemakers and the peacemakers,

the slow striders, the arthritic joggers, scarred and bent under
their histories, for they're here at last by the sunlit sea.

Blessed Peoria and Manhattan, Ottawa and Green Bay, Pittsburgh,
Dresden.

And blessed their children.

And blessed the lovers for they shall have one perfect day.

Blessed be the dolphin out beyond the furthest buoy,
slaughtering the bright leapers,
for they shall have full bellies.

Blessed, too, the cormorant and the osprey and the pelican
for they are the cherubim and seraphim and archangel.

And blessed be the gull, open throated, screeching, scolding
me to my face,

for he shall have his own place returned to him.
And the glossy lip of the long wave shall have the last kiss.

"Beach Attitudes" by Robert Dana, from The Other. © Anhinga Press, 2008. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of the first president of the United States, George Washington, born in Westmoreland County, Virginia (1732), whose favorite foods were mashed sweet potatoes with coconut, string beans with mushrooms, cream of peanut soup, salt cod, and pineapples. He lost all of his teeth except for one by — according to second president John Adams — cracking Brazilian nuts between his jaws. He got dentures made out of a hippopotamus tusk, designed especially to fit over his one remaining real tooth. But the hippo dentures were constantly rubbing against that real tooth so that he was constantly in pain. He used opium to alleviate the pain.

He snored very loudly, and instead of wearing a powdered wig like other fashionable people, he put powder on his own hair, which was naturally a reddish brown. He was not good at spelling and he had a speech impediment. George Washington's inaugural address was the shortest inaugural address in U.S. history: It was only 133 words long and took him just 90 seconds to deliver.

It's the birthday of poet, novelist, and essayist Ishmael Reed, (books by this author) born in Chattanooga, Tennessee (1938), the son of a YMCA fundraiser. He's one of the most prominent African-American writers of the second half of the 20th century. His novels include The Free-Lance Pallbearers (1967), Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down (1969), Mumbo Jumbo (1972). He writes about American history and race in a witty satirical way, and his fiction is known for encompassing a rich spectrum of language, including different dialects, professional jargon, lines from popular songs, and rhyme. He said that even his novels are influenced more by poets than by other novelists. And he once said, "No one says a novel has to be one thing. It can be anything it wants to be, a vaudeville show, the six o'clock news, the mumblings of wild men saddled by demons."

He received Pulitzer and National Book Award nominations, taught at Berkeley for 35 years, just retired, and still lives in Oakland. Recent books include New and Collected Poems, 1964–2007 (2007) and the nonfiction works Mixing It Up (2008) and Pow Wow: Charting the Fault Lines in the American Experience (2009).

It's the birthday of the best-selling mystery novelist Richard North Patterson, (books by this author) born in Berkeley, California (1947). Last year he published two novels: Eclipse (2009), based on the life of the Nigerian activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, and then The Spire (2009).

It's the birthday of the woman who wrote "My candle burns at both ends;
/ It will not last the night; / But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends — / It gives a lovely light!" Edna St. Vincent Millay, (books by this author) the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, was born on this day in 1892 in Rockland, Maine.

After being educated at Vassar, she moved to Greenwich Village and lived a Jazz Age Bohemian life, which revolved around poetry and love affairs. She was beautiful and alluring and many men and women fell in love with her. Critic Edmund Wilson asked her to marry him. She said no. He later reflected that falling in love with her "was so common an experience, so almost inevitable a consequence of knowing her in those days."

She wrote: "Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand: / Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand!"

It's the birthday of Ted Kennedy, born in Boston (1932), who served in the U.S. Senate for 46 years. In the 1970s, he wrote the books In Critical Condition: The Crisis in America's Health Care (1972) and The Congress and National Health Policy, (1977). His memoir True Compass (2009) appeared in bookstores a few weeks after his death last summer.

It's the birthday of poet Gerald Stern, (books by this author) born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (1925).

It's the birthday of the author and illustrator Edward Gorey, (books by this author) born in Chicago, Illinois (1925). He's known for writing and illustrating many morbidly funny books, including The Beastly Baby (1962), The Wuggly Ump (1963), and The Epiplectic Bicycle (1969).

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

 









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