Jun. 12, 2003

TWA 800

by Mary Jo Salter

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Poem: "TWA 800," by Mary Jo Salter from Open Shutters (Alfred A. Knopf).

TWA 800

Months after it had plummeted off the coast
    of Long Island, and teams of divers scoured
the ocean floor for blasted puzzle pieces
    to hoist and reassemble like
a dinosaur (all human cargo lost,
    too shattered to restore to more
than names), I heard my postcard

to friends in France had been delivered at last.
    Slipped in a padded bag, with a letter
from the U.S. Postal Service ("apologies
    for any inconvenience caused
by the accident"), and sea-soaked but intact,
    it was legible in every word
I'd written ("Looking forward

to seeing you!") and on the stamp I'd pressed
    into a corner: "Harriet Quimby,
Pioneer Pilot." Under her goggled helmet,
    she was smiling like a hostess at
this fifty-cent anecdote, in which the most
    expendable is preserved and no
rope's thrown to the rest.

Literary Notes:

It's the birthday of Anne Frank, born in Frankfurt, Germany in 1929, who kept a diary while she and her family hid from the Nazis during World War II. Her Jewish parents saw that Germany was becoming a hostile place for them to live and so they moved to the Netherlands in 1933. Hitler invaded the Netherlands in 1940, and in 1942 Anne's father decided it was too dangerous to stay in his own house. He moved his family into the attic of a friend's store, where they stayed for the next two years with another Jewish family. They brought food, clothes and furniture, and a store worker concealed the entrance to the attic with an old filing shelf. They were forced to whisper and tread softly during the day while there were customers in the store below, but at night they were free to listen to the radio and talk with each other. Anne Frank grew up wanting to be a writer, and wrote in her diary almost every day she was in hiding, filling up several notebooks. After two years of keeping her diary, she heard a radio broadcast that from London about how important war diaries and letters were. After that, she rewrote her entries into a single 324-page book, with the hope of getting it published after the war.

In June of 1944, the American and English armies landed on the French coast and the war seemed to be coming to an end. But just as they were making plans to come out of hiding, the Frank family was betrayed, and then arrested on the morning of August 4th, 1944, 25 months after they moved into the store attic. They were taken to a concentration camp, where Anne Frank died of typhus in 1945. The Gestapo raided the Franks' old hiding place for money and jewelry, but they left Anne's diary behind, where it was eventually found by two store employees. Her father survived the war and had the diary published in 1947. Within ten years it had been translated into more than sixty languages. Anne Frank wrote, "It's an odd idea for someone like me to keep a diary; not only because I have never done so before, but because it seems to me that neither I, nor for that matter anyone else, will be interested in the unbosomings of a thirteen year-old schoolgirl." Anne Frank wrote, "It's difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It's a wonder I haven't abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart."

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