May 1, 2005

Couple at Coney Island

by Charles Simic

SUNDAY, 1 MAY, 2005
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Poem: "Couple at Coney Island" by Charles Simic from Night Picnic. © Harcourt. Reprinted with permission.

Couple at Coney Island

It was early one Sunday morning,
So we put on our best rags
And went for a stroll along the boardwalk
Till we came to a kind of palace
With turrets and pennants flying.
It made me think of a wedding cake
In the window of a fancy bakery shop.

I was warm, so I took my jacket off
And put my arm round your waist
And drew you closer to me
While you leaned your head on my shoulder.
Anyone could see we'd made love
The night before and were still giddy on our feet.
We looked naked in our clothes

Staring at the red and white pennants
Whipped by the sea wind.
The rides and shooting galleries
With their ducks marching in line
Still boarded up and padlocked.
No one around yet to take our first dime.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's May Day, a pagan holiday that never developed a Christian equivalent, a celebration of the return of spring.

It's the anniversary of the opening of the Empire State Building, 1931, Fifth Avenue, 34th Street in New York City. It was built in just over a year.

It's the anniversary of the Great Exhibition of Works of Industry of All Nations in London at the Crystal Palace, 1851, at the height of the industrial revolution. One of the chief organizers was the husband of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, who believed that works of industry should be celebrated just like works of art. The Crystal Palace, made almost entirely of glass and iron, the largest building in the world at that time, longer than six football fields, built in less than a year.

The new inventions on display included: the telegraph, the Singer sewing machine, a gas stove, a device that let a man shave with no soap or water, a Swiss Army knife with 80 different tools in it, and the Colt repeating revolver. It was open for six months, and attracted six million visitors at a time when the entire population of London was only two million.

It's the birthday of Joseph Heller, born in Brooklyn (1923), best known for his novel Catch-22, (1961) about a World War II bomber pilot, Yossarian, who spends his time trying to get himself declared insane so he can stop flying bombing missions. There's a regulation called Catch-22 which says that if you want out of combat duty you are, therefore, sane and you will have to fly them. If you wanted to fly them, then you would be crazy and you wouldn't have to.

It's the birthday of the novelist and short story writer Bobby Ann Mason, born in Mayfield, Kentucky (1940), She grew up in the country, the daughter of dairy farmers. She became the first member of her family to go to college. She got her Ph.D. at the University of Connecticut, writing her dissertation about Vladimir Nabokov. By the time she was done writing it, she said, "I was so sick of reading about the alienated hero of superior sensibility that I thought I would write about just the opposite."

So she started writing short stories about people back in Kentucky, people who grow up in suburban housing developments and who drive trucks for a living and listen to country music and spent their time watching TV and going to Wal-Mart.

She sent her second short story to the New Yorker magazine. They sent her an encouraging rejection letter. They rejected 19 more stories over the next couple years and then published the twentieth. Her first collection came out in 1982, Shiloh And Other Stories, followed by other books, including Love Life, the novel Feather Crowns and her most recent collection, Zigzagging Down a Wild Trail.

Bobby Ann Mason who said, "I've always found it difficult to start with a definite idea, but if I start with a pond that's being drained because of a diesel fuel leak and a cow named Hortense and some blackbirds flying over and a woman in the distance waving, then I might get somewhere."

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




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