May 15, 2005

We Collect Gull Feathers

by Timothy Young

SUNDAY, 15 MAY, 2005
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Poem: "We Collect Gull Feathers" by Timothy Young from Building in Deeper Water © The Thousands Press. Reprinted with permission.

We Collect Gull Feathers

As the evening dies over Pepin,
we collect gull feathers, black and white ones,
and pretend they were dropped by the eagle
whose track and wing marked
the gray Mississippi sandbar.

Jesse remarked as we arrived,
"If I point at hawks they fly away,
but if I don't they stay in their trees."

The river moves heavily, south,
and the sun drops beyond the bluffs.
The air chills me.
I want to keep my fingers in my pocket,
because everything moves on here,
except that sweet pain of love that knows
he's growing up to leave me.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the poet Wyatt Prunty, born in Humbolt, Tennessee (1947).

It's the birthday of the painter Jasper Johns, born in Augusta, Georgia (1930). He was famous for his paintings of flags and maps.

It's the birthday of the man who gave us The Wizard of Oz, L(yman) Frank Baum, born in Chittenango, New York. He moved to Aberdeen, South Dakota and then to Chicago, where his first children's story, Father Goose, was a big success in 1899. Thereupon he submitted Wizard of Oz to his publisher. It came out in 1900. It was produced as a musical extravaganza in 1901 on the stage in Chicago.

It's the birthday of the author and editor Clifton Fadiman, born in Brooklyn (1904).

It's the birthday of the short story writer and novelist Katherine Anne Porter, born in Indian Creek, Texas (1890). She grew up in poverty, and received very little education. She got married at the age of 16 to a railway clerk, but later ran away from her husband to Chicago to become an actress.

She got a job in a song and dance show. She caught tuberculosis, but had no money. She had to go into a charity hospital which was known at the time as a "pest house." It was dirty. It was overcrowded. The patients were fed on dry bread and thin soup. But her brother, having heard she was sick, came to her rescue. He sent her money to pay for treatment at a real sanatorium in Texas where she spent two years surrounded by young women, including some journalists who inspired Katherine Anne Porter to become a writer.

Porter had never been to college, never left the country, hadn't lived outside of Texas for more than a year, but she went to work covering entertainment news and society. In 1919, she met a group of Mexicans who told her that a revolution was brewing in their country and that she should write about it. And though it was unheard of for a woman to travel alone to a foreign country—especially one that was unstable politically as Mexico was—she spent the next several months there, wrote about it, and also began writing short stories. She wrote "Flowering Judas," about a young American woman living in Mexico just before the revolution. It was published, made her famous, and became the title story of her first book, Flowering Judas and Other Stories, which came out in 1930.

It earned her some money so she could travel to Europe, where, being far away from Texas, she could see her home clearly for the first time. She began to write about her childhood. She wrote her novel Noon Wine which most critics consider her masterpiece. It's the story of a dairy farmer who hires a stranger to work on his farm, whereupon a bounty hunter arrives, claiming that the stranger is an escaped criminal, and the farmer winds up killing the bounty hunter and has to prove to the town that he is not a murderer.

It was on this day in 1942 that William Faulkner's book Go Down Moses was published. Go Down Moses is a collection of seven short stories, all taking place in his fictional Yoknapatawph County, about members of the McCaslin family. It includes his famous story, "The Bear."

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