Sep. 16, 2005

Porch Swing in September

by Ted Kooser

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Poem: "Porch Swing in September" by Ted Kooser, from Flying at Night. © University of Pittsburgh Press. Reprinted with permission.

Porch Swing in September

The porch swing hangs fixed in a morning sun
that bleaches its gray slats, its flowered cushion
whose flowers have faded, like those of summer,
and a small brown spider has hung out her web
on a line between porch post and chain
so that no one may swing without breaking it.
She is saying it's time that the swinging were done with,
time that the creaking and pinging and popping
that sang through the ceiling were past,
time now for the soft vibrations of moths,
the wasp tapping each board for an entrance,
the cool dewdrops to brush from her work
every morning, one world at a time.

Literary and Historical Notes:

On September 16, 1620, the Mayflower sailed from Plymouth, England bound for the New World. Passengers were mostly members of a separatist Protestant congregation separating from the Church of England. They were from the English Midlands. They had gone at first to a village near Amsterdam, lived in Holland for ten years, and then decided to start their own society from scratch. They had two boats for the trip across the Atlantic: the Speedwell and the Mayflower. The Speedwell was leaky, and they spent time trying to repair it.

So when they finally set sail on September 16, they were way behind schedule. The journey took 66 days. It was rainy, it was cold, and the ocean was rough. The boat was 90 feet long and carried 102 passengers. There were no separate cabins. They all had to live in the cargo area. But the Mayflower had previously been used to transport wine, and so the hold smelled wonderful.

It was in 1830 on this day, a 21 year old law student in Boston named Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote a poem of protest, "Old Ironsides," after he had heard that the famous USS Constitution was going to be dismantled. He wrote the poem that begins, "Ay, tear her tattered ensign down! Long has it waved on high." And it was printed the next day by most newspapers in the country, and the ship was restored.

It's the birthday of James J. Hill, born in southern Ontario (1838). He came to St. Paul, Minnesota as a young man. He got a job as an agent for the railroad. He established his own railroad by 1870, and by 1893, he had built the Great Northern Railroad, across the Great Plains to Seattle.

It's the birthday of the poet Alfred Noyes, born in Wolverhampton, England (1880). He is best known for his poem "The Highwayman."

It's the birthday of the blues singer and guitarist B.B. King, born in Itta Bena, Mississippi (1925).

It's the birthday of novelist John Knowles, born in Fairmont, West Virginia (1926). He is best known for his novel A Separate Peace. It's the story of two friends, Gene and Phineas, and their summer together at a prep school during the early years of World War II.

It's the birthday of short story writer James Alan McPherson, born in Savannah (1943). He is best known for his two short-story collections, Hue and Cry, and Elbow Room.

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