Oct. 2, 2014

Late September

by Connie Wanek

The leaves grow lighter and lighter,
yet they fall. As the woods thin
a house becomes visible,
and a plume of smoke hand-feeding the wind.
There's no hurry if you don't care.
For thirty years nothing knew paint,
but the house still stands.
What is dust, that we should mark
if it fills our empty boots while we sleep?

Children love you at first the way a dog does.
But eventually they will reveal
the history of your offenses
in high voices that carry across the pond.
Day opens and closes like a camera shutter,
mechanically, with more haste than necessary.
The cat lays a chipmunk at the back step.
I think of its burrow, of all it hoarded,
and of nine consecutive lives without remorse.

"Late September" by Connie Wanek, from Hartley Field. © Holy Cow! Press, 2002. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Mohandas K. Gandhi, born in Gujarat, India 1869. He was educated in British schools and earned a law degree in London. He was in South Africa on business when he was pushed off a train because he wouldn't give up his seat for a white person, and that single act helped to make Gandhi politically active. He fought against anti-Indian legislation in South Africa, returned to India, and quickly became the leader of the Indian Campaign for Home Rule, which was finally granted to India in 1947.

It's the birthday of comedian Groucho Marx, born in New York City (1890). In 1908, he began acting with his brothers, Harpo and Chico, and they became famous as the Marx Brothers. Groucho was known for his thick fake mustache, which he started using after he arrived late to a stage production and didn't have time to glue on his normal fake mustache. He used black grease paint as a substitute and liked it so much that he never switched. He was known as the most talkative Marx brother, and he's famous for his snappy insults. He said: "Marriage is a wonderful institution. That is, if you like living in an institution." And, "I never forget a face, but in your case, I'll make an exception."

It's the birthday of novelist Graham Greene (books by this author), born in Berkhamsted, England (1904). He described the citizens of his hometown as "slitty eyed and devious," and he had an unhappy childhood. He came from a prominent local family, and his father was the headmaster of his school, where Greene was bullied and attempted suicide several times. At the age of 16, he tried running away. His parents sent him to London to be treated by a psychoanalyst, an experience he thoroughly enjoyed. He decided that his biggest problem was boredom, and he began playing Russian roulette.

He went on to Oxford, where he published his first book, a book of poetry called Babbling April (1925). It was a flop. He got a job as a copywriter for The Times of London and spent years working as a journalist. He said, "A petty reason perhaps why novelists more and more try to keep a distance from journalists is that novelists are trying to write the truth and journalists are trying to write fiction."

Greene was an obsessive traveler. At Oxford, he offered his services to the German government as a propagandist if they would pay his expenses to travel in France. During World War II, he joined MI6, the British Intelligence Service, and was posted to Sierra Leone. He visited Prague during the Communist takeover, Kenya during the Mau Mau Uprising, Haiti under the reign of brutal dictator "Papa Doc" Duvalier, and covered the Vietnam War and the 1967 Arab-Israeli conflict. He wrote 24 novels, many of them set in the places he had visited. He said: "I travel because I have to see the scene. I can't imagine it."

His first big success was Stamboul Train (1932), published as Orient Express in America. It is set onboard the Orient Express headed to Istanbul, and follows the fate of the passengers, including a Jewish businessman, an exiled Socialist doctor, a lesbian journalist, a chorus girl, and a murderer. Greene said: "In Stamboul Train for the first and last time in my life I deliberately set out to write a book to please, one which with luck might be made into a film. The devil looks after his own and I succeeded in both aims."

Greene wrote The Heart of the Matter (1948) about an English colonial policeman stationed in Sierra Leone. He is passed over for a promotion, his marriage is failing, his love affair makes him feel guilty for betraying his Catholicism, and a local diamond smuggler constantly manipulates him. Greene described his main character, Scobie, as "a weak man with good intentions doomed by his big sense of pity."

The Comedians (1966) was set in Haiti under Papa Doc's rule, narrated by a hotel owner named Brown. The novel upset Papa Doc so much that he published a pamphlet accusing Greene of being "a liar, a cretin, a stool-pigeon ... unbalanced, sadistic, perverted ... a perfect ignoramus ... lying to his heart's content ... the shame of proud and noble England."

A Burnt-Out Case (1960) was the story of a depressed architect who traveled to a Congolese leper colony.

Greene said, "I have no talent; it's just a question of working, of being willing to put in the time."

On this day in 1950, the comic strip "Peanuts" made its debut, the creation of a young, freelance cartoonist named Charles Schulz (books by this author). He wanted to call the strip "Li'l Folks," but United Feature Syndicate, who had just bought it, thought the name was too similar to another comic strip, and changed it to "Peanuts."

In addition to Charlie Brown, "Peanuts" introduced the world to Linus, Schroeder, Lucy, Violet, and Snoopy, the dog. It became the most popular comic strip of all time, appearing in 2,600 newspapers and 75 countries, read by more than 335 million people every day. Charles Schulz did all the drawing, inking, and lettering of his cartoons by himself, with no staff assistants. And he took almost no breaks in 50 years, even when his hand began to shake after he had heart surgery. He only decided to retire after he developed Parkinson's disease and was diagnosed with cancer. He died on February 12, 2000, the day before his last strip was set to run.

Charles Schulz said: "Most of us are much more acquainted with losing than we are with winning. Winning is great, but it isn't funny."

It's the birthday of Wallace Stevens (books by this author), born in Reading, Pennsylvania (1879). He wanted to be a journalist, but after a couple years of writing for a New York paper, he decided that he would fulfill his father's desires and go to law school. After graduating, he took a job with the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company, where he was in charge of inspecting surety claims. He would remain at the job for the rest of his life.

Each day, he walked the two miles between his office and upper-middle-class home, where he lived with his wife and daughter, and during these walks to and from work, he composed poetry. He said, "It gives a man character as a poet to have this daily contact with a job." He would only let people walk with him if they didn't talk. He never ate lunch, except for once a week "to break up the monotony" — and on that day, he would always go to a place near his Hartford, Connecticut, office.

He claimed that "poetry and surety claims aren't as unlikely a combination as they may seem. There's nothing perfunctory about them for each case is different."

His first collection of poems, Harmonium, was published when he was 43 years old. Though the volume received only lukewarm praise at first, it later became considered a modernist classic. In 1955, just months before he died, he received both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for his volume Collected Poems.

In his book Opus Posthumous, Stevens wrote, "After one has abandoned a belief in god, poetry is that essence which takes its place as life's redemption." And he wrote, "The whole race is a poet that writes down / The eccentric propositions of its fate."

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

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