Sep. 16, 2002

Route Six

by Stanley Kunitz

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Poem: "Route Six," by Stanley Kunitz from Passing Through: The Later Poems, New and Selected (W.W. Norton).

Route Six

The city squats on my back.
I am heart-sore, stiff-necked,
exasperated. That's why
I slammed the door,
that's why I tell you now,
in every house of marriage
there's room for an interpreter.
Let's jump into the car, honey,
and head straight for the Cape,
where the cock on our housetop crows
that the weather's fair,
and my garden waits for me
to coax it into bloom.
As for those passions left
that flare past understanding,
like bundles of dead letters
out of our previous lives
that amaze us with their fevers,
we can stow them in the rear
along with ziggurats of luggage
and Celia, our transcendental cat,
past-mistress of all languages,
including Hottentot and silence.
We'll drive non-stop till dawn,
and if I grow sleepy at the wheel,
you'll keep me awake by singing
in your bravura Chicago style
Ruth Etting's smoky song,
'Love Me or Leave Me,'
belting out the choices.

Light glazes the eastern sky.
Celia gyrates upward
like a performing seal,
her glistening nostrils aquiver
to sniff the brine-spiked air.
The last stretch toward home!
Twenty summers roll by.

On this day in 1620, the Pilgrims left Plymouth, England on the Mayflower.

It's the birthday of James Cash Penny, born in 1875 in Hamilton, Missouri. He was the founder of the chain department store J.C.Penny.

It's the birthday of the biochemist Albrecht Kossel, born in Rostock, Mecklenburg, Germany. He won the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1910 for his discovery of the nucleic acids that make up DNA molecules.

It's the birthday of the author of A Separate Peace, John Knowles, born in Fairmont, West Virginia (1926).

It's the birthday of blues singer and guitarist B. B. King, born in Itta Bena, Mississippi (1925). He was born into a black sharecropping family on a cotton plantation in the Mississippi delta. He lived with his mother, who was very religious and made sure that he did not have access to the blues music of their black ghetto neighborhood. Instead, he sang in the church choir. When his mother died, he had to survive by doing farm work until his father took him back to live with him. His uncle taught him guitar, and he bought an eight-dollar guitar for himself to learn on. He found he could make more money playing on street corners than he did doing farm work. He started by singing gospel, and everybody appreciated it but nobody gave him any money. So he tried singing secular, blues music, and used lyrics he knew from gospel songs, but sang "my baby" instead of "my Lord," and from then on passersby paid him. He joined the army during World War II and his all-black unit provided him his first intense exposure to blues music. When he got back, He got his name as a deejay in Memphis, where he called himself the Beale Street Blues Boy. He wrote in his autobiography, "Imagine my situation: Before Memphis, I never even owned a record player. Now I was sitting in a room with a thousand records and the ability to play them whenever I wanted. I was the kid in the candy store, able to eat it all. I gorged myself." He performed with his red guitar, called Lucille, toured the country for two decades playing in black clubs and dance halls, and performed often in jails. When he gets sad, he plays the blues. He said, "Some people smoke and drink, but just holding the guitar and strumming a few notes seems to do it for me." In his song Riding with the King, he sings, "I stepped out of Mississippi when I was ten years old / With a suit cut sharp as a razor and a hot tomato road / I had a guitar hanging just about waist high / And I'm gonna play this thing until the day I die."

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




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