Aug. 4, 2005

Can You

by Christian Barter

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Poem: "Can You" by Christian Barter, from The Singers I Prefer © CavanKerry Press, Ltd. Reprinted with permission.

Can You

Can you love the dawn and hate the day? I do.
"Addicted to the beginnings of relationships,"
as I've been told. And told. And told. The new
light looks as something else when it first hits,
something more like Catherine standing up
across a strangered room, that promising look
she had before the promises, still stuck
with sweetness to her face in my notebook
of pre-day ecstasies. I love the feel
of gray seeping into black-what it represents:
the casting-out that could occur-and the real,
truant world opening, before it grows dense
with light and the need for endings, setting free
that inkling some lasting love might come to me.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the romantic Percy Bysshe Shelley, born in Sussex, England (1792). He died before the age of 30, but he gave us many masterpieces, including "The Cloud," "To a Skylark," and "Prometheus Unbound."

It's the birthday of Knut Hamsun, born in Lom, Norway (1859). He was considered one of the great Scandinavian novelists of all time. He had almost no formal schooling. As a boy he became an indentured servant to his uncle. He escaped at the age of 14, went to the United States, and found a job as a streetcar operator in Chicago. He was very poor. He wore newspapers under his clothes to keep warm in the winter in Chicago. He went back to Norway and wrote his early novels that made him famous, including Mysteries and Hunger in 1890.

It's the birthday of Louis Armstrong, born in New Orleans (1901) in a poor section of town known as "The Battlefield." When he was six years old, he and three other boys formed a vocal quartet and sang on street corners for tips.

A family of Russian Jewish immigrants, the Karnofskys, hired young Louis to work on their junk wagon, and he bought his first cornet with the money that the family loaned him. He was 12 years old when he was sent to a reform school as a juvenile delinquent, and that was where he learned to play the cornet.

It's the birthday of the crime writer Dennis Lehane, born in Dorchester, Massachusetts (1965). He grew up in a poor Irish neighborhood that he once described as "[A place] cramped with corner stores, small playgrounds, and butcher shops ... days, the mothers searched the papers for coupons. Nights, the fathers went to bars. You knew everyone; nobody ever left ... My mother and father were Irish immigrants with a sense that life was hard and unfair and you just tried your best."

Dennis Lehane was one of the few kids in the neighborhood who went to college. He got a master's degree in a creative writing program and studied the work of Raymond Carver and Walker Percy. He tried his hand at writing literary short stories, but he'd grown up reading mysteries and crime fiction. And so he decided to try writing a mystery novel for fun. It came out in 1994, A Drink Before the War. It did all right. He went on writing, but he had to support himself as a valet in a parking garage and a chauffeur.

In 2001, he came out with a novel, a story based on his own neighborhood, a murder that affects three men who've grown up there. The result was Mystic River, which got great reviews and became his first major best-seller. Clint Eastwood went on to make it into a movie in 2003.

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