Apr. 30, 2003

Just Married

by Peter Schmitt

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Poem: "Just Married," by Peter Schmitt from Country Airport (Copper Beech Press).

Just Married

Oh, they can be forgiven such innocent
indulgence, the couple whose car we saw

in the darkened parking garage today --
the white spray paint filling the rear window,

"Just Married," and the date, now more than two
weeks old. Let them enjoy this extended

moment as long as they can, let them feel
this way always. For their lives, all history,

could have begun on that day. Regardless
that the buoyant numerals and letters,

like the asking price of a car, would appear
insensibly reversed if, driving, they glanced

back; the message looms between them and the world
which will always be trying to gain on them.

and if in noon glare their first full wedded day
they cut with a room service knife the strings

to the cans clinking like obligations,
they will not let go yet this brief announcement.

Oh, the elements might eventually
combine to erase them, enough downpours,

or the blistering sun, but by the time
the words no longer quite ring true, it will be

their own hands that make them vanish. Then let it
end happily, in a bright lather of suds,

gentle hiss of the hose and the radio,
the two together, hands crossing the glass

until what is revealed are their own faces:
hovering where their older, wiser friends

had been that day, imprinting the letters
the numbers, and giving them their first push down

that road in a storm of rice and flowers.

Literary Notes:

It was on this day in 1900 that the legendary train engineer Casey Jones died in a train wreck. He was known for his speed, and he often bragged that his trains always came in on time. He was driving the Cannon Ball express from Memphis, Tennessee, to Canton, Mississippi, trying to make up time because the train was overdue, when his fire man warned him that there was another train up ahead. He ordered his fireman to jump, but he stayed on the train, one hand on the break and the other on the whistle. Though the Cannon Ball crashed and Jones was killed, the passengers were saved because of his efforts to slow the train down. An engine wiper, Wallace Saunders, wrote the first ballad about him, followed by many others, including some versions in German and French.

It was on this day in 1939 that the New York World's Fair opened to the public. It was the height of the Great Depression, and Mayor La Guardia thought that the theme of the fair should be The World of Tomorrow. Planners built the fairground on Flushing Meadows, which had been a garbage dump.

It's the birthday of Eugen Bleuler, born in Zollikon, Switzerland (1857). One of the most influential psychiatrists of all time, he introduced the term "schizophrenia."

It's the birthday of filmmaker Jane Campion, born in Wellington, New Zealand (1954). She's famous for her films about women who don't fit into society, including Sweetie (1989) and The Piano (1993), which won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

It's the birthday of poet, critic and nature writer Annie Dillard, born Annie Doak in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (1945). She's the author of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974), which won the Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction. Dillard has written many other books of essays, including The Writing Life (1989).

It's the birthday of short story writer Josip Novakovich, born in Daruvar, Croatia (1956). Though he grew up in Croatia, he came to the United States as a young man and has written several books in English, including the memoir Apricots from Chernobyl (1995) and the book of short stories Salvation and Other Disasters (1998).

It's the birthday of poet and critic John Crowe Ransom, born in Pulaski, Tennessee (1888). His father was a Methodist minister who moved from one congregation to the next, so Ransom grew up in a series of small towns. As a professor at Vanderbilt University, he taught several young men who would become important American poets, including Robert Penn Warren and Allen Tate.

It's the birthday of singer/songwriter Willie Nelson, born in the small farming community of Abbott, Texas (1933). He grew up during the Great Depression, was raised by his grandparents and aunts, and earned his keep by picking cotton. His grandfather, a blacksmith who played guitar on the side, gave Willie his first guitar and his only music lessons. After high school, he worked during the day as a door-to-door salesman of Bibles, encyclopedias, vacuum cleaners, and sewing machines. In 1959 he wrote "Night Life," a song that was eventually recorded by more than 70 artists and sold over 30 million copies. He only made $150 from the song, when he sold the copyright. He used the money to buy a second-hand Buick, and he drove to Nashville, hoping to become a country music star.

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