Oct. 23, 2003

Going Back and October Saturday: 1949

by H. R. Coursen

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Poem: "Going Back," and "October Saturday: 1949," by H.R. Coursen, from New and Selected Poems (Mathom Bookshop).

October Saturday: 1949

When I was seventeen,
the quarterback gave me the ball, and
the hole opened
up, right where it said it would be
on the blackboard.
And I kept on going,

and going. I was an
x attached to an arrow. It was
like making love
to a woman, although I must
admit, I did
not know that at the time.

Going Back

Strange. I would not have predicted it,
but as I return for my reunion—
50th—in New Jersey—the one
thing I think about is football, not
back seats or first beers or the war that shadowed those years,
but the clack of shoulder pads against the guts
of boys, and the drive of cleats into the ruts
of afternoon, the wins and losses, tears
that we passed off as sweat, the halfback's weave
to set up a block, the sun upon the hide
of a leathery pass, a punt's upward ride
into the hangtime of half a moon, the sleeve
of my jersey upon the fresh scent of the grass
on which I roll, having been knocked upon my ass

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Michael Crichton, born in Chicago (1942). He is author of many best-selling thriller novels, including The Andromeda Strain (1969) and Jurassic Park (1990), a scientific thriller about dinosaurs brought to life through genetic engineering. He writes novels and non-fiction, and he has produced movies and television shows. Crichton tried many careers. He first went to Harvard to become a writer, but he didn't like the English department, and switched to anthropology. After graduating, he taught anthropology in England and traveled to Europe and North Africa. His book Eaters of the Dead (1976), which is based on medieval Russian and Viking culture, was influenced by his background in anthropology. The book is a fictionalized account of a real Islamic traveler who went to Russia in the year 922. After he had traveled, Crichton returned to Harvard and went to medical school. He began writing while he was in medical school, publishing under pseudonyms so that his professors wouldn't find out about his side career. He finished medical school, but never became a doctor. He said, "To quit medicine to become a writer struck most people like quitting the Supreme Court to become a bail bondsman."

It's the birthday of British poet Robert Bridges, born in Kent, England (1844). His collections include The Growth of Love: A Poem in Twenty-Four Sonnets (1876) and The Chivalry of the Sea (1916). He went to medical school at Oxford, and was a doctor at numerous hospitals. The whole time that he was practicing medicine, he wrote sonnets, poems, and plays. In 1913, Bridges beat out Rudyard Kipling to earn the post of Poet Laureate. He served during World War I, and was asked to write many official pieces. Shortly after the war started, The Times published his patriotic poem "Wake up, England!". The war took a toll on him. He said, "The war is awful. I can scarcely hold together. . . . Just at present I am far too disturbed to write, the communication with my subconscious mind is broken off."

One afternoon, the elderly Bridges was visited by Virginia Woolf and Aldous Huxley. Woolf described their initial meeting: "[Bridges] sprang from a rhododendron bush, a very lean tall old man, with a curly grey hat, [and] a reddish ravaged face, smoky fierce eyes, with a hasy look in them; very active; rather hoarse, talking incessantly."

Robert Bridges wrote the lines:

My delight and thy delight
Walking, like two angels white,
In the gardens of the night:

My desire and thy desire
Twining to a tongue of fire
Leaping live, and laughing higher;
Thro' the everlasting strife
In the mystery of life.

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