Sep. 6, 2005

Waving Good-Bye

by Gerald Stern

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Poem: "Waving Good-Bye" by Gerald Stern from This Time: New And Selected Poems, © W.W.Norton.

Waving Good-Bye

I wanted to know what it was like before we
had voices and before we had bare fingers and before we
had minds to move us through our actions
and tears to help us over our feelings,
so I drove my daughter through the snow to meet her friend
and filled her car with suitcases and hugged her
as an animal would, pressing my forehead against her,
walking in circles, moaning, touching her cheek,
and turned my head after them as an animal would,
watching helplessly as they drove over the ruts,
her smiling face and her small hand just visible
over the giant pillows and coat hangers
as they made their turn into the empty highway.

Literary and Historical Notes:

On this day in 1936, British aviator Beryl Markham flew across the Atlantic from east to west—the first pilot ever to do so. She took off in England and landed in Nova Scotia, a flight recounted in her 1942 memoir, West with the Night.

It's the birthday of writer Robert Pirsig, born in Minneapolis (1928). He's best known for his book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974), which 120 editors turned down before one finally offered a standard $3000 advance. The book is about the 1968 motorcycle trip he made from Minneapolis to San Francisco with his 12-year-old son Christopher. But the trip is really a backdrop for Pirsig's philosophical meditations on nature and technology. It was a completely unexpected best seller. He wrote: "The Buddha, the Godhead, resides quite as comfortably in the circuits of a digital computer or the gears of a cycle transmission as he does at the top of the mountain, or in the petals of a flower."

On this day in 1890, when the captain of the riverboat Roi de Belges died of a tropical fever on the Congo River, Joseph Conrad was made master of the ship. He later drew on this experience in his novella Heart of Darkness (1902), in which the protagonist, Marlow, is ordered to take command of a cargo boat stranded in the interior of Africa.

On this day in 1847, Henry David Thoreau left Walden Pond and moved back to his father's house in Concord, Massachusetts. Thoreau had lived in the hut for two years, leading a simple life of gardening and contemplation, subsisting on a daily budget of 27-1/2 cents. When he moved back to Concord, he took with him the first draft of his book, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, strung together from 10 years of journal entries.

It's the birthday of the general and aristocrat the Marquis de Lafayette, born in Chavaniac, France (1757). He was a 19-year-old captain in the French army when he sailed to America (1777) and offered to help the revolutionary cause. He was appreciated for his powerful court connections, and George Washington made him a major general. He led six light infantry battalions (1780), and a Light Corps (1781), and, in the closing days of the war helped confine General Cornwallis's army to the coast of Virginia.

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




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