Jan. 6, 2005

By the Shores of Pago Pago

by Eve Merriam

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Poem: "By the Shores of Pago Pago" by Eve Merriam, from Rainbow Writing © Atheneum. Reprinted with permission.

By the Shores of Pago Pago

Mama's cooking pots of couscous,
Papa's in the pawpaw patch,
Bebe feeds the motmot bird,
and I the aye-aye in its cage,

Deedee's drinking cups of cocoa,
while he's painting dada-style,
Gigi's munching on a bonbon
(getting tartar on her teeth),

Toto's drumming on a tom-tom,
Fifi's kicking up a can-can,
Jojo's only feeling so-so
and looking deader than a dodo,

Mimi's dressing in a muumuu,
Nana's bouncing with her yo-yo,
stirring batter for a baba,
Zaza doesn't make a murmur,

Kiki hopes her juju beads
will help to ward off tsetse flies,
Lulu's looking very chichi
in a tutu trimmed with froufrou:

does all this mean our family's cuckoo?

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Edgar Lawrence Doctorow, born in New York City in 1931. He was senior editor of The New American Library for a few years, then the editor in chief at Dial Press, and since then he has built a 30-year career as a writer and instructor. He has taught at the University of California-Irvine, Sarah Lawrence College, the Yale University Drama School, Princeton, and New York University, where he now works. He's the author of novels, essays, plays, and short stories, and he's best known for his 1975 novel Ragtime, which won the first National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction. His other novels include Billy Bathgate, World's Fair, and The Book of Daniel.

It's the birthday of poet Khalil Gibran, born in Bsharri, Lebanon, in 1883. He emigrated to the United States with his parents as a boy, settled in New York in 1912, and devoted himself to writing, first in Arabic and later in English. In 1920 he founded a society for Arab writers, called Mahgar. His best known work is The Prophet, a collection of 26 poetic essays in which a prophet, on his way home after living abroad for 12 years, stops to teach the mysteries of life to a crowd of strangers. The book is often quoted at weddings, especially the poem "On Marriage," which begins,

You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.

Khalil Gibran, who wrote: "Should we all confess our sins to one another we would all laugh at one another for our lack of originality."

It's the birthday of French book illustrator Gustave Doré, born in Strasbourg in 1833, the most prolific and famous illustrator in Europe in the 19th century. His images defined the horror genre as we know it today—as much as the poetry of Edgar Allan Poe did. His most famous illustrations adorned the pages and covers of Dante's Divine Comedy, Don Quixote, and Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven.

It's the birthday of Saint Joan of Arc, the French heroine of the Hundred Years War. She was born in the town of Domremy, France, on the border of the province of Champagne, in 1412. She was born and raised on her family's farm, and at age 12 she began hearing voices of St. Michael, St. Catherine, and St. Margaret, urging her to cut her hair, wear men's clothes, and join the army, and telling her that her mission in life would be to free France from the English. She followed their lead, and after enlisting she was promoted to the rank of Captain. She led her troops to a sweeping victory in the Battle of Orléans. When King Charles VII was crowned King of France, she sat in a place of honor at his side. But less than a year later, she was captured and sold to the English, who tried her for witchcraft and heresy, and burned her at the stake in 1431. She was 19 years old.

It's the birthday of Carl Sandburg, journalist, poet, novelist, and biographer, born in a three-room cottage in Galesburg, Illinois, in 1878. Sandburg produced a two-volume biography of Lincoln, published in 1926, but was too intrigued with his subject to stop there, so he published four more volumes titled Abraham Lincoln: The War Years. For that he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for History in 1940. Ten years later he received a second Pulitzer, this one for poetry, for his anthology, Complete Poems.

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