Mar. 10, 2005

Ode to My 1977 Toyota

by Barbara Hamby

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Poem: "Ode to My 1977 Toyota" by Barbara Hamby, from Babel. © University of Pittsburgh Press. Reprinted with permission.

Ode to My 1977 Toyota

Engine like a Singer sewing machine, where have you
     not carried me-to dance class, grocery shopping,
into the heart of darkness and back again? O the fruit
     you've transported-cherries, peaches, blueberries,
watermelons, thousands of Fuji apples-books,
     and all my dark thoughts, the giddy ones, too,
like bottles of champagne popped at the wedding of two people
     who will pass each other on the street as strangers
in twenty years. Ronald Reagan was president when I walked
     into Big Chief Motors and saw you glimmering
on the lot like a slice of broiled mahi mahi or sushi
     without its topknot of tuna. Remember the months
I drove you to work singing "Some Enchanted Evening"?
     Those were scary times. All I thought about
was getting on I-10 with you and not stopping. Would you
     have made it to New Orleans? What would our life
have been like there? I'd forgotten about poetry. Thank God,
     I remembered her. She saved us both. We were young
together. Now we're not. College boys stop us at traffic lights
     and tell me how cool you are. Like an ice cube, I say,
though you've never had air conditioning. Who needed it?
     I would have missed so many smells without you—
confederate jasmine, magnolia blossoms, the briny sigh
     of the Gulf of Mexico, rotting 'possums scattered
along 319 between Sopchoppy and Panacea. How many holes
     are there in the ballet shoes in your back seat?
How did that pair of men's white loafers end up in your trunk?
     Why do I have so many questions, and why
are the answers like the animals that dart in front of your headlights
     as we drive home from the coast, the Milky Way
strung across the black velvet bowl of the sky like the tiara
     of some impossibly fat empress who rules the universe
but doesn't know if tomorrow is December or Tuesday or June first.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1864 that Ulysses S. Grant was named Lieutenant General of the Union armies during the Civil War. President Lincoln had given this responsibility to several men, but they had not done as well as Lincoln had hoped, so the president turned to Grant, who had a reputation for brilliance. Two days later, Grant was promoted again, to General in Chief of the Armies of the United States, and he was given complete control over the Union war effort.

Ulysses Grant had a simple strategy for winning the war over the Confederacy. First, he promoted General William T. Sherman to his old job, commander of the Federal armies in the Western Theater. Grant commanded Sherman to march against the Confederate Army of Tennessee, and to continue forward until he reached Atlanta, burning everything in his path. At the same time, Grant reorganized the Army of the Potomac and then sent it into battle against Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia and Richmond. Both forces were to move forward until they met each other, pinching the Confederate forces, and then they would join together to form a massive fighting force, poised to destroy the Confederacy, which is exactly what would happen the following year.

Ulysses S. Grant said, "The art of war is simple enough. Find out where your enemy is. Get at him as soon as you can. Strike him as hard as you can and as often as you can, and keep moving on."

It's the birthday of Henry W. Fowler, born in Devon, England (1858). He is the author of the Dictionary of Modern English Usage (1926).

Fowler actually worked as a schoolmaster for 17 years before he resigned and joined his brother Francis G. Fowler on the island of Guernsey, where they lived together and collaborated on a translation of Lucian (1905), and then wrote The King's English. This latter project led them to plan the Dictionary of Modern English Usage, a book which Henry Fowler completed after his brother's early death. He dedicated it to his brother saying, "I think of [this book] as it should have been, with its prolixities docked, its dullness enlivened, its fads eliminated, its truths multiplied. He had a nimbler wit, a better sense of proportion, and a more open mind, than his twelve-year-older partner."

The Dictionary of Modern English Usage is known for its ability to make dull topics like grammar and word usage entertaining and even funny. Fowler's comment on the split infinitive is one of the best-known passages in the book: "The English-speaking world may be divided into those who neither know nor care what a split infinitive is, those who don't know, but care very much, those who know and approve, those who know and condemn, and those who know and distinguish."

It's the birthday of the playwright and novelist David Rabe, born in Dubuque, Iowa (1940). He is best known for his work about the Vietnam War.

Rabe entered graduate school at Villanova University, studying theater, but he was drafted to fight in the Vietnam War in 1965. He entered the United States Army and served for two years, and he spent 11 of those months fighting in Vietnam. Then, Rabe returned to America and completed his master's degree.

It was during this time that Rabe began to write Sticks and Bones, the first play in a loose trilogy about the Vietnam War, focusing on a war veteran. His later plays The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel (1971) and Streamers (1976) finished the trilogy. Rabe also began teaching at Villanova after his plays earned critical praise—including a Tony Award nomination for his play In the Boom Boom Room (1973), about a go-go dancer.

Rabe has written two novels and has many screenwriting credits for movies that include Casualties of War (1989), The Firm (1993) and Hurlyburly (1998).

It's the birthday of John Rechy, born in El Paso, Texas (1934). He is well known for his premiere novel City of Night (1963). In it, he chronicles the underworld of homosexual prostitution in the middle of the 20th century.

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




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