Aug. 30, 2002

Aunt Julia

by Norman MacCaig

(RealAudio) | How to listen

: "Aunt Julia," by Norman MacCaig from Collected Poems (Random House).

Aunt Julia

Aunt Julia spoke Gaelic
very loud and very fast.
I could not answer her -
I could not understand her.

She wore men's boots
When she wore any.
-I can see her strong foot,
stained with peat,
paddling with the treadle of the spinningwheel
while her right hand drew yarn
marvelously out of the air.

Hers was the only house
where I've lain at night
in the absolute darkness
of a box bed, listening to
crickets being friendly.

She was buckets
and water flouncing into them.
She was winds pouring wetly
round house-ends.
She was brown eggs, black skirts
and a keeper of threepennybits
in a teapot.

Aunt Julia spoke Gaelic
very loud and very fast.
By the time I had learned
a little, she lay
silenced in the absolute black
of a sandy grave
at Luskentyre.
But I hear her still, welcoming me
with a seagull's voice
across a hundred yards
of peatscrapes and lazybeds
and getting angry, getting angry
with so many questions

It's the birthday of Robert Crumb, born in Philadelphia (1943). He drew Fritz the Cat, Mr. Natural, Snoids, the Vulture Demonesses, and a host of other underground comic book heroes. He worked at the American Greeting Card Company for a while, then moved to San Francisco in 1967. There he started drawing Zap Comix, and people began to point him out to each other on the street. Zap Comix brought him obscenity charges, copyright battles, and trouble with the IRS. In the eighties, his fortunes reversed; his work attained the status of high art. Mainstream magazines featured pieces on his comics, and big art museums held retrospectives. A critic called him "The Breughel of the last half of the 20th century." Crumb decided to leave the country, and he traded away several of his early sketchbooks to a collector in exchange for a villa in the south of France.

It's the birthday of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, born in London (1797). She was the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, the author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women. Her mother died ten days after she was born, and her father taught her to read by having her trace the letters on her mother's gravestone. When she was sixteen, Percy Shelley came to the house to visit her father. He fell in love with her, and they ran away together, even though he was married to someone else. They spent the summer of 1816 at Lake Geneva with Lord Byron. There were a lot of thunderstorms that summer, and the Shelleys stayed up late with Byron and his friends, reading German fairy tales and reciting poetry. Byron dared them all to write a ghost story, and they recalled a passage from a book they had read which speculated "…whether scientists could galvanize a corpse of manufactured humanoid." Mary Shelley finished Frankenstein the following year. She was twenty.

On this day in 1637, Governor John Winthrop banished Anne Hutchinson from The Massachusetts Bay Colony. She had been holding prayer meetings in her home, attended by eighty or ninety people at a time. She preached that salvation could not be bought, that God spoke directly to the faithful, and that Indians were not damned.

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