Aug. 19, 2003

From Blossoms

by Li-Young Lee

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Poem: "From Blossoms," by Li-Young Lee, from Rose (Boa Editions).

From Blossoms

From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.

From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.

O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.

There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.

Literary Notes:

It's the birthday of Ogden Nash, born in Rye, New York (1902). He wrote humorous poems, and he wasn't above mispronouncing, misspelling, and making up words for a rhyme, in books that include The Bad Parents' Garden of Verse (1936), I'm a Stranger Here Myself (1938), and You Can't Get There from Here (1957). Ogden Nash wrote, "To keep your marriage brimming, / With love in the loving cup, / Whenever you're wrong, admit it; / Whenever you're right, shut up." He wrote, "I would live all my life in nonchalance and insouciance, / Were it not for making a living, which is rather a nouciance." And, "Children aren't happy with nothing to ignore, / And that's what parents were created for."

It's the birthday of poet Li-Young Lee, born in Jakarta, Indonesia (1957), to Chinese parents. His father was a personal physician to Mao Zedong in China until the family was exiled to Indonesia, where his father was jailed for a year. The family wandered around Asia, through Hong Kong, Macau, and Japan, finally arriving in the United States, where Lee has written his books of poetry: Rose (1986), The City in Which I Love You (1990), and Book of My Nights (2001); and a memoir, The Winged Seed (1995). Lee's family settled in East Liberty, Pennsylvania, where his father became a pastor to an all-white congregation. In school, the English language did not come easy to him. He called his mouth "a shame" to him, "an indecent trench." He had a recurring dream in which his mouth was full of rotten teeth. He wrote, "hundreds of teeth in my mouth and all of them cavity-ridden, brown, chips of burnt bone embedded in my gums."

It's the birthday of the man who took us to "space, the final frontier," on "the voyages of the starship Enterprise." He's the author of the most famous split infinitive of all time: "to boldly go where no man has gone before." The writer and producer Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek, was born in El Paso, Texas (1921).

It's the birthday of short-story writer and novelist James Gould Cozzens, born in Chicago (1903). He was only 16 when he published an article in the Atlantic Monthly defending private schools, and his first four novels all came out before he turned 27. Cozzens hated them and refused to have them listed among his published works. His 11th novel, Guard of Honor, was a surprise pick for the 1948 Pulitzer Prize, over Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead and William Faulkner's Intruder in the Dust. Cozzens was a prolific writer, but when he was asked what he does in his study, he said, "I meditate and put on a rubber tire with three bottles of beer. Most of the time I just sit picking my nose and thinking."

It's the birthday of Orville Wright, born in Dayton, Ohio (1871). Together with his brother Wilbur he was the first to fly a self-propelled airplane. On December 17, 1903, he took turns with Wilbur as they tried to fly their new plane, the Flyer I, in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina. They told several reporters about their test flights, but no one thought they were newsworthy. Orville took the first flight that day, keeping the Flyer I in the air for 12 seconds, traveling 120 feet in the air. The Wrights kept trying, going farther each time, until Wilbur flew the plane 852 feet in almost one minute. The only audience was five men, two boys, and a dog.

It's the birthday of former president Bill Clinton, born in Hope, Arkansas (1946). In 1988 he was chosen to introduce Michael Dukakis at the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta. It was supposed to be Clinton's big break, but it turned into a big belly flop on national TV. Clinton bombed. He stood on the podium and stared into a teleprompter and realized from the start that the speech was doomed: awkward sections were inserted by Dukakis aides, the house lights were still on, there was no signal to the delegates to be quiet and listen. Minutes into the speech, he noticed that some convention whips were working against him, encouraging people to keep making noise. Clinton ignored signs from convention managers to cut it short, and he droned on until he said the words "and in conclusion" and the place erupted in mock cheers. The networks had cut away, and the audience was chanting, "Get off, get off." A few nights later Clinton went on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson even though his advisors told him not to, and Johnny joked that Clinton should be approved by the surgeon general as an over-the-counter sleep aid. But Clinton turned the joke around by making fun of himself. He said the speech "had not been my finest hour, not even my finest hour and a half." He played the saxophone with the band, and within the year he started building for his 1992 campaign.

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