Sep. 3, 2004

This Morning

by Jo McDougall

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Poem: "This Morning" by Jo McDougall, from Dirt © Autumn House Press, 2001. Reprinted with permission.

This Morning

As I drive into town
the driver in front of me
runs a stop sign.
A pedestrian pulls down his cap.
A man comes out of his house
to sweep the steps.
bright as raspberries.

I turn on the radio.
Somebody tells me
the day is sunny and warm.
A woman laughs

and my daughter steps out of the radio.
Grief spreads in my throat like strep.
I had forgotten, I was happy, I maybe
was humming "You Are My Lucky Star,"
a song I may have invented.
Sometimes a red geranium, a dog,
a stone
will carry me away.
But not for long.
Some memory or another of her
catches up with me and stands
like an old nun behind a desk,
ruler in hand.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1939 that Great Britain and France declared war on Germany, at 11:00 AM and at 5:00 PM respectively, and what had begun as a German invasion of Poland two days earlier officially became World War II. American journalist William Shirer was covering the war for CBS Radio and wrote in his book, Berlin Diary: "It has been a lovely September day, the sun shining, the air balmy, the sort of day the Berliner loves to spend in the woods or on the lakes nearby. I walked the streets. On the faces of the people astonishment, depression. Stunned."

W. H. Auden wrote, in New York, the poem, "September 1, 1939." The poem began:

"I sit in one of the dives On Fifty-second Street Uncertain and afraid As the clever hopes expire Of a low dishonest decade: Waves of anger and fear Circulate over the bright And darkened lands of the earth, Obsessing our private lives; The unmentionable odour of death Offends the September night."
It's the birthday of writer Sarah Orne Jewett, born 1849 in South Berwick, Maine, renowned for her stories about the ships, fishermen, and coastal villages of 19th-century Maine. In her teens she started writing stories about the traditions of Maine village life. Of her 20 books, the best known is the short novel, The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896).

It's the birthday of the American architect, Louis Henry Sullivan (1856), born in Boston. He worked in Chicago in the 1880s and '90s when the city was teeming with immigrants, grain trading, and railroads. Sullivan designed over 100 buildings for the city, including its early steel-frame skyscrapers. He is remembered for his influential words, "Form follows function."

On this day in 1838, Fredrick Douglass boarded a train in Maryland, making his escape from slavery. He was dressed as a sailor and carried identification papers he got from a free black seaman. Douglass ended up in New Bedford, Massachusetts where he joined a church and went to Abolitionist meetings. At 23, he gave his first speech at the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society's annual convention in Nantucket Island. The speech was about his life as a slave. It was later described as "eloquent," though Douglass said that his legs were shaking.

Douglass' most well-known work is his autobiography Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (1845). It was an immediate bestseller and received overwhelmingly positive critical reviews. Within three years of publication, it had been reprinted nine times with 11,000 copies circulating in the United States.

Frederick Douglass said, "If there is no struggle, there is no progress.

It's the birthday of American playwright, short story writer and essayist Sally Benson, born Sara Mahala Redway Smith in St. Louis (1900). She is best known for her collection of stories, Junior Miss (1941). The memorable character in these stories is Judy Graves, an awkward yet appealing adolescent. Her other works include Meet Me in St. Louis, made into a movie in 1944 for which Benson wrote the screenplay. She also wrote The Young and the Beautiful (1956), based on F. Scott Fitzgerald's "Josephine" stories.

It's the birthday of novelist Alison Lurie, born in Chicago, Illinois (1926). Lurie's novels include Imaginary Friends (1967), Real People (1970), and Foreign Affairs (1984). In The War Between the Tates (1974), her first best-seller, when a wife discovers her husband's infidelity, Lurie writes, There is a peculiar burning odor in the room, like explosives .... the kitchen fills with smoke and the hot, sweet, ashy smell of scorched cookies. The war has begun."

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