Apr. 25, 2004

Nobody Dies in the Spring

by Philip Appleman

SUNDAY, 25 APRIL, 2004
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Poem: "Nobody Dies in the Spring," by Philip Appleman, from New and Selected Poems, 1956-1996. © University of Arkansas Press. Reprinted with permission.

Nobody Dies in the Spring

Nobody dies in the spring
on the Upper West Side:
nobody dies.
On the Upper West Side

we're holding hands with strangers
on the Number 5 bus,
and we're singing the sweet
graffiti on the subway,
and kids are skipping patterns through
the bright haze of incinerators,
and beagles and poodles are making a happy
ruin of the sidewalks,
and hot-dog men are racing
their pushcarts down Riverside Drive,
and Con Ed is tearing up Broadway
from Times Square to the Bronx,
and the world is a morning miracle
of sirens and horns and jackhammers
and Baskin-Robbins' 31 kinds of litter
and sausages at Zabar's floating
overhead like blimps--oh,
it is no place for dying, not
on the Upper West Side, in springtime.

There will be a time
for the smell of burning leaves at Barnard,
for milkweed winging silky over Grant's Tomb,
for apples falling to grass in Needle Park;
but not in all this fresh new golden
smog: now there is something
breaking loose in people's chests,
something that makes butchers and bus boys
and our neighborhood narcs and muggers
go whistling in the streets--now
there is something with goat feet out there, not
waiting for the WALK light, piping
life into West End window-boxes,
pollinating weeds around
condemned residential hotels,
and prancing along at the head
of every elbowing crowd on the West Side,
Follow me-- it's spring--
and nobody dies.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of poet and novelist Walter de la Mare, born in Charlton, Kent, England (1873). He's known for his fantasy stories and poems for children, and his dark novels and poems for adults. He said, "The spinning of a consummate tale of the supernatural requires a peculiar kind of absorption. Our journey over the borderland and into that stagnant, electric, sinister atmosphere must be as quiet and gradual as the coming on of night."

It's the birthday of novelist Claude Mauriac, born in Paris (1914). He was one of the leading writers of "new novels," experimental novels written in post-World War II France by a group of authors that also included Alain Robbe-Grillet and Marguerite Duras. His novels include All Women Are Fatal (1957), The Dinner Party (1960) and The Enlargement (1963).

It's the birthday of fiction writer Howard Garis, born in Binghamton, New York (1873). He's the creator of the pink-nosed elderly rabbit named Uncle Wiggily. He published an Uncle Wiggily story in the Newark News six days a week for thirty-seven years, introducing the world to such characters as Baby Bunny, Skiller Scaller, and Nurse Jane Fuzzy Wuzzy. He also wrote hundreds of books for young adults.

It's the birthday of J(ay) Anthony Lukas, born in New York City (1933). He worked as a journalist for over forty years, and wrote award-winning articles and books about civil rights, racial segregation, the 1968 Democratic National Convention, the McDonald's empire, the Watergate scandal, and many other subjects.

He published two books in the early '70s, The Barnyard Epithet and Other Obscenities: Notes on the Chicago Conspiracy (1970) and Don't Shoot--We Are Your Children (1971), about the generation gap between young social activists and old traditionalists. He wasn't satisfied with the books, though; he wanted to write a big, important book about a critical social issue in America.

Then, in 1976, Lukas saw a photograph of an anti-busing rally in Boston, in which a group of white protesters were attacking a black passerby with an American flag. At another anti-busing rally Lukas saw Senator Edward Kennedy being spat upon, kicked, pushed, and pelted with fruit. He decided the great topic for his book was going to be racial desegretation, and how it was affecting the lives of ordinary people.

He spent three years interviewing the members of three families in Boston—one lower-class black, one working-class Irish Catholic, and one upper-class white liberal. He even got a part-time teaching position at the schools of the families' children; and he traveled to Ireland and Nova Scotia to research the families' ancestries. Finally, after seven years of research and writing, he came out with Common Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American Families (1985). It won all of the major nonfiction book awards for 1985, including the Pulitzer Prize.

Lukas spent the last seven years of his life researching and writing his 880-page book Big Trouble (1998), about the conflict between mining companies and radical unionists in early twentieth-century Idaho.

It's the birthday of novelist Padgett Powell, born in Gainesville, Florida (1952). He's the author of several short stories and five novels, including Edisto (1984) and Aliens of Affection (1998). He started out as an English major in college, but he got horrible grades and ended up majoring in chemistry. He was working as a roofer in Texas when his girlfriend left him and he decided to go to graduate school to meet women. It was there that he started writing his first novel, Edisto, published in 1984. It was a huge success. Powell said, "Bad luck at fishing and worse with women made me what little writer I am."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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