Sep. 26, 2005

This Shining Moment in the Now

by David Budbill

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Poem: "This Shining Moment in the Now" by David Budbill, from While We've Still Got Feet © Copper Canyon Press. Reprinted with permission.

This Shining Moment in the Now

When I work outdoors all day, every day, as I do now, in the fall,
getting ready for winter, tearing up the garden, digging potatoes,
gathering the squash, cutting firewood, making kindling, repairing
bridges over the brook, clearing trails in the woods, doing the last of
the fall mowing, pruning apple trees, taking down the screens,
putting up the storm windows, banking the house—all these things,
as preparation for the coming cold...

when I am every day all day all body and no mind, when I am
physically, wholly and completely, in this world with the birds,
the deer, the sky, the wind, the trees...

when day after day I think of nothing but what the next chore is,
when I go from clearing woods roads, to sharpening a chain saw,
to changing the oil in a mower, to stacking wood, when I am
all body and no mind...

when I am only here and now and nowhere else—then, and only
then, do I see the crippling power of mind, the curse of thought,
and I pause and wonder why I so seldom find
this shining moment in the now.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Jane Smiley, born in Los Angeles (1949). She came from a family of journalists, but when she was growing up, she loved horses. She read every book about horses she could find and invented imaginary horse farms. She grew to be six feet two as a teenager. She said, "I didn't want to be a writer when I was in high school; all I remember wanting to be was shorter." But she wrote her first novel as her senior thesis at college. She said, "My plan was to go to England and then sort of wander around the world, with my typewriter in one hand, my banjo in the other, and my backpack on my back."

Instead, she got married. She had two daughters before she published her first novel, but she made sure that she had at least three or four hours of babysitting every day so she could write. She had a list of four novels she planned to write: an epic, a tragedy, a comedy, and a romance.

She's best known for her novel A Thousand Acres, a retelling of King Lear, set on an Iowa farm, told from the perspective of the daughters. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992, and its success enabled Smiley to quit teaching and fulfill her lifelong dream of owning thoroughbred horses.

After she bought a dozen horses, she wrote her novel Horse Heaven (2000) about the world of horse breeding and racing. It was one of the happiest periods of her life. She said, "When I was writing [my novel] about horses, it just added to my pleasure. I'd get up, read something about horses, then go feed the horses. I'd get rid of the children by sending them off to school, then I'd write about horses and read more about horses. Ride the horses, feed the horses again ... it was really wonderful."

It's the birthday of the composer George Gershwin, born in Brooklyn (1898). He grew up in Brooklyn on the Lower East Side. He got a job on Tin Pan Alley as a song plugger, handing out the sheet music to any customers who were wandering by.

When he was 19, he and his childhood friend Irving Caesar wrote a song together called "Swanee," which Al Jolson heard and made it a huge hit, and that was the turning point for George Gershwin.

He wrote his piece "Rhapsody in Blue" in 1924 when the band leader Paul Whiteman asked him to write a jazz composition. Gershwin forgot all about it until he saw an announcement in the newspaper of a concert with the concerto advertised just a couple of weeks away. Gershwin wrote the orchestra's part and then improvised his own solo parts onstage, and it was a big hit.

It's the birthday of Thomas Stearns (T.S.) Eliot, born into a prominent Unitarian family in Saint Louis (1888). He loved the poetry of Edgar Allen Poe. He was a birdwatcher. He liked to watch steamboats going up the Mississippi. He didn't have many friends in St. Louis or when he went to Harvard. He moved to England and got a job as a banker. He married a 26-year-old ballet dancer who he never was completely comfortable with. He couldn't bring himself to shave in front of her. Virginia Woolf said of Elliot, "He was one of those poets who live by scratching, and his wife was his itch."

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