Jun. 11, 2010
When I Look at the Old Car
When I look at the old car
backed into the cleared-out space in the shed,
I can almost understand
those bewildered men who leave
their softening wives in middle age, up-
and-walk-out after decades
of marriage and family, to take up
with some buffed and waxed young thing
with great lines, horsepower
to burn and a dazzling array
of untested equipment.
When I look at the old car's
headlights, dulled with disuse and staring
at me, as if to say, What did I ever do?
Wasn't I always good to you?
Turned over every morning, rain or snow
to start your day? Kept you safe
all these years, mile after mile?
And I'm filled with guilt and say with feeling
You're absolutely right. You were the best. There'll never
be another you, as I glance surreptitiously
at my cute new model sitting in the old car's space
in the garage and explain, You just got old.
You're falling apart. And besides, I say,
I've fallen in love. We're already living together.
And the old car looks like it might be wired
So I walk across the yard
and look at the new car,
and it occurs to me that before too long
the new car will be old, the suspension
will sag and things will fall off.
And like the lout who'll use up
his young fling and want to trade in again,
we'll deny that we've put on some miles ourselves,
dump this one in the shed and go shopping —
until someone lays a firm hand on our arm
and says Enough. You just can't drive any more.
It's the birthday of German composer Richard Strauss, born in Munich in 1864. He's known for writing what he called "tone poems" inspired by literary characters. He wrote Don Juan (1889) and Don Quixote (1897), and operas too, of course. In 1905, he wrote the opera Salome, based on the play by Oscar Wilde.
He said, "I may not be a first-rate composer, but I am a first-class second-rate composer."
It's the birthday of the novelist William Styron, (books by this author) born in Newport News, Virginia (1925). He published just eight books during his life — novels, short stories, essays, and a memoir, including Lie Down in Darkness (1951), The Confessions of Nat Turner (1967), Sophie's Choice (1979), and Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness (1990). And since his death in 2006, three more books of his have been published. Letters to my Father (2009) is just that, written between 1943 and 1953, and The Suicide Run (2009) is a book of short stories, five fragments of stories about the Marine Corps. Havanas in Camelot (2008) is a series of personal essays.
It's the birthday of the poet and playwright Ben Jonson, (books by this author) born in London (1572). He didn't want to be a bricklayer like his father, so he got a job as an actor and then began to write plays.
He had a notoriously bad temper, and once killed another actor in a duel. He was put on trial, but right around the same time, his first important play, Every Man in His Humour (1598), had its premiere, and William Shakespeare served as one of the actors. Even though he was a convicted felon, his work was popular enough that he became a court poet and started hanging around with royalty.
It's the anniversary of the Broad Street Riot in Boston, on this day in 1837.
June 11, 1837 was a hot, humid Sunday afternoon in Boston. Fire Engine Company 20 — made up primarily of Protestant "Yankees," descendants of the original English settlers — was coming back from Roxbury, where they had put out a fire. Most of the firemen went to a nearby saloon afterward to have some drinks. When they left the saloon, they started walking down Broad Street toward the fire station and passed about 100 Irish immigrants on their way to join a funeral procession around the corner on Sea Street. Most of the firemen lived in the working-class districts of Boston where ethnic tensions were particularly high, and some of them were suspected of having been involved in the burning of a convent a few years earlier. But still, the two groups almost walked by each other without incident, except that a 19-year-old fireman named George Fay had a few more drinks than his friends, and he either insulted someone or hit someone, and soon the firemen and the Irish were fighting. In no time at all, it turned into a full-scale brawl, and then a riot. Other Yankees, many of them young men, broke into Irish homes, smashing and looting. At least 800 men were fighting in the streets, with plenty more onlookers.
Finally, the mayor of Boston, Samuel Eliot, intervened and sent in about 800 state militia with fixed bayonets to disperse the riot. Eighteen men were prosecuted, 14 of them Irish immigrants, and three of those immigrants were put in prison; the rest of the Irish men and all of the Yankees were let off.
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®