Apr. 16, 2003

For a Sleepless Child

by Peter Schmitt

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Poem: "For a Sleepless Child," by Peter Schmitt from Country Airport (Copper Beech Press).

For a Sleepless Child

If your room is ever too dark,
small one, look out through your window
up at the moon, that little bulb
left on for you in the sky's black wall.
It will still be there come morning,
burning in a bright room of blue.

And if your room, restless one,
is much too still, listen to the clatter
of the freight, rattling past trestles
on the cool night breeze. Then follow
the moon to the side of the tracks,
where the train is a long, slow dream

you can jump on. An open car
is waiting for you -- one step up --
you're on! Now watch the dark towns, the lights
deep in the porches, and lie down
in the soft straw, and sleep till morning,
when the train chugs into the station,

noisy with birds and wires overhead.


Literary Notes:

It's the birthday of British writer Kingsley Amis, born in London, England (1922). He went off to Oxford, where he met the poet, Philip Larkin, who became his lifelong friend. Amis was a poet as well, but he's best known for his satiric novels. His first, Lucky Jim (1954), is about Jim Dixon, a young university instructor who bumbles his way through a thankless job. The novel's outspoken irreverence for the British class system made Amis one of Britain's "Angry Young Men." He went on to write more than 40 books, including I Like It Here (1958), One Fat Englishman (1963), and The Old Devils (1986). Amis said, "I dislike men and women when they are cold-hearted…, unpleasant to those who can't hit back…, unable to allow others to finish a sentence, stingy, disinclined to listen to reason and fact, bad hosts, bad guests, affected, racialist, intolerant of homosexuality, anti-British, members of the New Left, passively boring." His son, Martin Amis, is also a well-known novelist.

It's the birthday of aviator Wilbur Wright, born near Millville, Indiana (1867). His brother was Orville Wright. They lived in Dayton, Ohio; they were in the bicycle business and set out to make an airplane. In 1899, Wilbur wrote to the U.S. Weather Bureau to get a list of the windiest places in America. Number six was Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, and that's where he made the first sustained flight of a self-propelled plane, on December 17, 1903. On a sandy beach in high winds he flew 852 feet in 59 seconds. There were no reporters at the test flight -- the audience was five men, two boys, and a dog.

It's the birthday of Irish playwright John Millington Synge, born in Rathfarnham, near Dublin (1871). He met William Butler Yeats in Paris in 1896; Yeats encouraged him to go to the Aran Islands, off the western coast of Ireland, a place where local customs and the Irish language were untouched by British rule. For four years Synge spent summers there, and the islanders' stories inspired his best work, the plays The Riders to the Sea (1902), In the Shadow of the Glen (1902), and The Playboy of the Western World (1907).

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