May 16, 2003

Blue Tango

by Frazier Russell

FRIDAY, 16 MAY 2003
(RealAudio) | How to listen

"Blue Tango," by Frazier Russell from Lush (Four Way Books).

Blue Tango

Say it's the year of their courtship,
your mother and father,
in the ballroom of the Shoreham Hotel,
summer 1952.

In this plush setting,
the orchestra swells
time and again to a tune
always their favorite.

Any Friday night you could find them
on the dance floor.
He in tux and cummerbund.
She in a black strapless,
hem brushing the waxed wood
as though it were a lilypad.

Surrounded on all sides by Jesuits
and their debutante dates
in crushed velvet,
pearls around their necks
like a load of light.

How you love to imagine
that somehow everyone in that room
although a little tipsy
will get home safely
and fumble in love for their beds.

That the smoke from cigarettes
ringing the room in red
like hot coals is still rising.

Say somewhere birds lift off the lake
and it never gets light.

Literary Notes:

Today is the feast day of St. Brendan, patron saint of sailors and travelers. St. Brendan was born near Tralee in County Kerry, Ireland. He traveled all around Ireland as a young man, and founded many monasteries. He also went to Scotland, Wales, and Brittany, to spread Christianity in those areas. In the middle ages a story called The Voyage of St. Brendan became popular; it told the tale of St. Brendan going on a long journey across the Atlantic in search of paradise. In the 1970s, a man named Tim Severin became obsessed with St. Brendan's story and built a boat similar to what Brendan must have sailed with. It was made of hides tanned with oak bark, sealed together with animal fat and grease. He sailed with a group of volunteers from the western coast of Ireland to Newfoundland, proving that Brendan's journey would have been possible. He published the story of his journey in the book The Brendan Voyage (2000).

It's the birthday of American poet Adrienne Rich, born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1929. She's written over twenty collections, including The Diamond Cutters and Other Poems (1955) and Diving into the Wreck (1973), and is known for her feminism and her politically charged poetry. She said, "Art is our human birthright, our most powerful means of access to our own and another's experience and imaginative life. In continually rediscovering and recovering the humanity of human beings, art is crucial to the democratic vision." And, "For more than 50 years I have been writing, tearing up, revising poems, studying poets from every culture and century available to me. I have been a poet of the oppositional imagination, meaning that I don't think my only argument is with myself. My work is for people who want to imagine and claim wider horizons and carry on about them into the night, rather than rehearse the landlocked details of personal quandaries…."

It was on this day in 1763 that English writer Samuel Johnson met his future biographer James Boswell in a bookstore. Boswell's The Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) is considered one of the greatest biographies in the English language. Boswell wrote the book from notes he made on the spot while talking with Johnson and his friends, and the biography is full of Johnson's witty conversation. It includes lines from Johnson like, "Read over your compositions and wherever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out," and, "No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money."

It's the birthday of writer and Chicago radio personality Louis Studs Terkel, born in New York City in 1912. He went to law school in Chicago but decided to go into television, where he hosted a variety show. Later, he became a radio disc jockey for a fine arts station, and began to interview blues and jazz musicians and actors. In 1967 he published a book of interviews with immigrants in Chicago called Division Street: America, and has since published many more books of interviews. In 1985, he won the Pulitzer Prize for his book of oral histories about World War II, The Good War. His latest is Will the Circle Be Unbroken: Reflections on Death, Rebirth, and Hunger for a Faith (2001), published two years ago.

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