Mar. 14, 2004


by David Wagoner

SUNDAY, 14 MARCH, 2004
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Poem: "Speeding," by David Wagoner, from The House of Song (University of Illinois Press).


My friends and I wanted to drive fast
Faster to floor the pedal and go roaring
Through stop signs and blind corners our eyes half-stuck
On the needle over the limit throttling the night
While clutching both hands white on the jittery wheel
Or making fists in the backseat seeing the blocks
And blocks of houses streaking by the smear
Of porches out the windshield a lane and a half
Between parked cars an emptiness ready to swallow
Whatever we had to offer beyond the end
Of the engine the grill the chrome-plated star the ram
The streamlined nude thrusting all of us forward
Into the dark past streetlights rushing our way
To vault over our heads and show up again
With nothing new to shine for but another
Cross street another nothing we didn't want
To be somewhere we didn't want to be
Anywhere even sooner than possible
Or somewhere else ahead to be anything
Different something here not now but there
Not then to rocket to break it off
But sooner than we could think we'd see the end
Of the street where going on meant losing it all
So we'd slow down then finally almost maybe
Stopping to talk about how good it had been
Not being afraid of flying past between
Our sleeping mothers and fathers who couldn't see us
Scuffling home now having been somebody
Who would get us through the night and the slow morning
And the slower afternoon the regular walking
Around the sitting the nodding the figuring
And being agreeable dutiful always holding
Close the key the ignition midnight the street
The clear lane revving us up to speed
The same old way our faces and feet were aimed
Our eyes were headed were meant to go by god.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of novelist John Wain, born in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, England (1925). His first novel, Hurry on Down (1953), established him as one of Britain's "Angry Young Men" of the 1950s. The were known as radicals who bitterly opposed the British establishment and the conservative elements in the society at the time.

Wain wrote, "England . . . what did the word mean to me? The home of imperialism; a small country that had made itself rich and powerful, in its day. . . . A life dominated by backward looking tradition and ritual. Soldiers in breaking helmets or kilts, a Queen riding in a golden carriage, boys being stuffed with Greek in schools hypocritically called 'public.'"

It's the birthday of physicist Albert Einstein, born in Ulm, Germany (1879). He published four scientific papers in his spare time while he worked as an examiner in the Swiss Patents Office. Each one had revolutionary implications for the field of physics. Among them was his special theory of relativity.

Einstein said, "If A equals success, then the formula is A equals X plus Y plus Z. X is work. Y is play. Z is keep your mouth shut."

On this day in 1939, John Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath was published. It's the story of the Joad family, Oklahoma farmers who leave the Dust Bowl only to be exploited on the farms of California. It soared to the top of the bestseller lists, selling nearly half a million copies.

It's the birthday of Sylvia Beach, born in Baltimore, Maryland (1887). She founded an English language bookstore and lending library called Shakespeare & Company, on the Left Bank of Paris. It opened just as the "lost generation" was discovering Paris, and it became a central feature of the Parisian literary scene of the 1920s. Writers used it as a meeting place, a post office, and a place for guidance with their writing. Beach also published books, including the first, blue and white edition of James Joyce's Ulysses (1922).

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