Sep. 8, 2005

Black Umbrellas

by Rick Agran

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Poem: "Black Umbrellas" by Rick Agran from Crow Milk © Oyster River Press.

Black Umbrellas

On a rainy day in Seattle stumble into any coffee shop
and look wounded by the rain.
Say Last time I was in I left my black umbrella here.
A waitress in a blue beret will pull a black umbrella
from behind the counter and surrender it to you
like a sword at your knighting.
Unlike New Englanders, she'll never ask you
to describe it, never ask what day you came in,
she's intimate with rain and its appointments.
Look positively reunited with this black umbrella
and proceed to Belltown and Pike Place.
Sip cappuccino at the Cowgirl Luncheonette on First Ave.
Visit Buster selling tin salmon silhouettes
undulant in the wind, nosing ever into the oncoming,
meandering watery worlds, like you and the black umbrella,
the one you will lose on purpose at the day's end
so you can go the way you came
into the world, wet looking.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday, in Washington, D.C., 1947, of writer Ann Beattie, the author of novels and short stories about Americans who came of age in the 1960s. Her first writings appeared in the early 1970s, when The New Yorker began accepting her short stories. She became something of a legend for how fast she worked: 22 stories in a year, then a complete draft of her first novel, Chilly Scenes of Winter, in three weeks.

It's the birthday in 1930, Evansville, Indiana, of writer Marilyn Durham, author of The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing (1972). The story, set in the Wyoming Territory of the 1880s, is about John Grobart, a train robber who years earlier had married a young Shoshone girl named Cat Dancing.

It was on this day in 1900 that a hurricane leveled Galveston, Texas, and left 5,000 people dead. The storm kept up for 18 hours, with winds clocked at 120 m.p.h. Most of Galveston was built at sea level, and huge waves swept through the streets and flattened businesses and homes.

It was on this day in 1892 that an early version of The Pledge of Allegiance appeared in a magazine called The Youth's Companion. It read: "I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands; one nation indivisible, with liberty and Justice for all."

It was on this day in 1664 that the Dutch surrendered the city of New Amsterdam to the British, who renamed it New York. The English navigator Henry Hudson claimed credit as the city's discoverer in 1609, when he sailed into its harbor and up the river that now bears his name, looking for a passage to India. Hudson was sailing for the Dutch West India Company, so it was the Dutch who moved in and settled the area in 1614, six years before the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock. Forty years later, New Amsterdam became a city; its population, 800. In the 1660s the Dutch and English were at war, and on September 8, 1664, a fleet sent by the Duke of York seized the city and changed the name to New York.

It was on this day in 1565 that a Spanish expedition established the first permanent European settlement in North America at St. Augustine, in northeastern Florida, making it the oldest continuously settled city in the United States.

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