Aug. 1, 2004

John Green Takes His Warner, New Hampshire, Neighbor to a Red Sox Game

by Maxine Kumin

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Poem: "John Green Takes His Warner, New Hampshire, Neighbor to a Red Sox Game," by Maxine Kumin, from The Long Marriage. © W.W. Norton. Reprinted with permission.

John Green Takes His Warner, New Hampshire, Neighbor to a Red Sox Game

Everett down the hill's
52 and trim. No beer gut.
Raises beef, corn, hay, cuts
cordwood between harvests.
Goes to bed at 8 and falls
into sleep like a parachutist.

He's never been to a ballgame.
He's never been to Boston though
he went over to Portland Maine
one time ten, fifteen years ago.

In Sullivan Square, they
luck out, find a space
for John's car, take
the T to Fenway Park.
The famous T!
A kind of underground trolley.
Runs in the dark.
No motorman that Ev can see.
Jammed with other sports fans.

John has to show him
how to put the token in.
How to press with his hips
to go through the turnstile.
How to stand back while
the doors whoosh shut.
How to grab a strap
as the car pitches forward.
How to push out
with the surging crowd.

Afterward Ev says the game's
a whole lot better on tv.
Too many fans.
Too many other folks for him.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the man who wrote the lyrics for our national anthem, Francis Scott Key, born in Frederick, Maryland (1779). He was thirty-five years old on September 13, 1814, when he composed the poem "The Star Spangled Banner." He wrote it on a truce ship in the harbor while the British bombed Fort McHenry, eight miles away. He had gone to the British to negotiate the release of a Maryland doctor they had captured. They made him wait under their surveillance until the bombing was over. He had to watch from afar and did not know if the Americans were able to defend themselves. But in the morning he looked through a telescope and saw their raised garrison flag. He checked into a Baltimore hotel when he reached land and finished his poem there. Congress didn't make it the official national anthem until 1931.

It's the birthday of explorer William Clark, born in Caroline County, Virginia (1770). He co-commanded, with Meriwether Lewis, an expedition from the Louisiana Purchase territory to the Pacific Coast. They left St. Louis on May 14, 1804 and were gone for two years, four months, and nine days. By the time they returned home, many people had assumed they had died.

It's the birthday of Herman Melville, born in New York City (1819). He was born into a successful merchant family and was the third child of eight. When he was twelve, his father went insane and died and his mother was left alone to raise all the children. A bout of scarlet fever left young Melville with permanently poor eyesight. But he taught himself to read and loved it. He read Shakespeare and books of history, anthropology, and science. Melville got a job as a cabin boy on the 359-ton whaling ship Acushnet when he was twenty-one. Then he joined the Navy and sailed to the Atlantic and the South Seas.

He was a clerk and a bookkeeper at a general store in Honolulu and he lived for a while among the Typee cannibals in the Marquesas Islands, until another ship came there and took him to Tahiti. He came home to live with his mother and write about his adventures in his book Typee (1846). For the revised edition of that book, he was forced to edit out certain racy bits about the Marquesan girls that he and his mates had encountered. Typee was Melville's most popular book during his lifetime.

He's best known for his novel Moby-Dick (1851), which begins with the famous line, "Call me Ishmael." It continues, "Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation." The novel is about the mysterious Captain Ahab and his quest to hunt down the white whale, Moby-Dick, who cost him his leg on a previous voyage. Melville filled the book with symbolism and philosophy and Shakespearean rhetoric. The public didn't get it, and it only sold about 3,000 copies while Melville was alive. He died in 1891, with a manuscript of the unfinished novel Billy Bud on his desk.

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