Apr. 6, 2006

On Closing the Apartment of my Grandparents of Blessed Memory

by Robyn Sarah

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Poem: "On Closing the Apartment of my Grandparents of Blessed Memory" by Robyn Sarah from Questions About The Stars. © Brick Books. Reprinted with permission.

On Closing the Apartment of my Grandparents of Blessed Memory

And then I stood for the last time in that room.
The key was in my hand. I held my ground,
and listened to the quiet that was like a sound,
and saw how the long sun of winter afternoon
fell slantwise on the floorboards, making bloom
the grain in the blond wood. (All that they owned
was once contained here.) At the window moaned
a splinter of wind. I would be going soon.

I would be going soon; but first I stood,
hearing the years turn in that emptied place
whose fullness echoed. Whose familiar smell,
of a tranquil life, lived simply, clung like a mood
or a long-loved melody there. A lingering grace.
Then I locked up, and rang the janitor's bell.

Literary and Historical Notes:

On this day in 1327, one of the most important events in the history of poetry took place: The Italian poet Petrarch saw the woman he called Laura for the first time at a Good Friday service in the church of Sainte-Claire. He would go on to write dozens of sonnets to Laura, providing a model for generations of sonnet-writers, including Shakespeare. But he didn't publish those sonnets until 1374, almost fifty years after Petrarch saw Laura for the first time. Most historians now think Petrarch's Laura was Laura de Noves, the wife of a nobleman named Hugues de Sade. She died on April 6, 1348, twenty-one years after Petrarch had first seen her.

It's the birthday of country songwriter and singer Merle Haggard, born in Bakersfield, California (1937). His parents were dustbowl migrants from Oklahoma, and Haggard grew up in a house that had been converted from a railroad boxcar by his father. He grew up poor and restless, in and out of reform schools, and by the time he was fourteen he was hopping trains and hitchhiking around the West Coast. He supported himself as a migrant farm worker, but he also stole cars, wrote bad checks and became a petty thief.

He eventually got caught trying to burglarize a roadhouse and he spent twenty-seven months in San Quentin prison. He decided that he didn't ever want to go to prison again and became a model prisoner. He also joined the prison's country-music band. Before he was released, Haggard got to see Johnny Cash perform in concert for the prisoners. Haggard even got to meet Cash, and the experience persuaded him to pursue country music as a career.

The first song he wrote, while he was still on parole, was "Branded Man" about the life of an ex-con. He began recording with a friend who ran a record company out of his garage. His first single sold only 200 copies, but within a few years, his song "All My Friends Are Gonna Be Strangers" became a top-ten hit on the country charts.

Today, Haggard has released more than six hundred songs, thirty-eight of which were number-one hits.

It was on this day in 1909 that Robert Peary, Matthew Henson, and four Eskimos became the first men to reach the North Pole. Peary was a U.S. Navy lieutenant who had dreamed of reaching the North Pole since reading about the arctic as a child. He began working toward the North Pole in 1893, and in 1906 he got within 150 miles. On March 1, 1909, he set off from Ellesmere Island with a group of twenty-three men, 133 dogs, and nineteen sleds. As they got closer to the North Pole, they gradually reduced the size of their party until, finally, there were only six men left.

He reached what he believed to be the North Pole on the morning of April 6, 1909. Further studies concluded that Peary probably came up about thirty miles short of the North Pole, and on May 3, 1952, an Oklahoman named Joseph O. Fletcher flew into the Arctic Circle and became the first man to undisputedly set foot on the North Pole.

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