May 1, 2006

Because You Left Me A Handful of Daffodils

by Max Garland

MONDAY, 1 MAY, 2006
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Poem:"Because You Left Me A Handful of Daffodils" by Max Garland from The Postal Confessions. © University of Massachusetts Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Because You Left Me A Handful of Daffodils

I suddenly thought of Brenda Hatfield, queen
of the 5th grade, Concord Elementary.
A very thin, shy girl, almost
as tall as Audrey Hepburn,
but blond.

She wore a dress based upon the principle
of the daffodil: puffed sleeves,
inflated bodice, profusion
of frills along the shoulder blades
and hemline.

A dress based upon the principle of girl
as flower; everything unfolding, spilling
outward and downward: ribbon, stole,
corsage, sash.

It was the only thing I was ever
Elected. A very short king.
I wore a bow tie, and felt
Like a third-grader.

Even the scent of daffodils you left
reminds me. It was a spring night.
And escorting her down the runway
was a losing battle, trying to march
down among the full, thick folds
of crinoline, into the barrage of her
father's flashbulbs, wading
the backwash of her mother's
perfume: scared, smiling,
tiny, down at the end
of that long, thin, Audrey Hepburn arm,
where I was king.

Literary and Historical Notes:

Today is May Day, a celebration of the return of spring that goes back thousands of years in European traditions. Various May Day celebrations included the gathering of wildflowers and green branches, the weaving of floral garlands, and the setting up of a decorated May tree, or Maypole, around which people danced.

May Day never developed a Christian equivalent. In order to celebrate the holiday, workers had to stay home from work against their employers' wishes. It became known as a people's holiday, and in 1889, a congress of world Socialist parties held in Paris voted to choose May 1, 1890, as a day of demonstrations in favor of the eight-hour day.

It was on this day in 1786 that Mozart's first great opera, The Marriage of Figaro, premiered in Vienna. Mozart had been struggling for years to live up to his fame as a child prodigy. He spent years in Salzburg as a musician in the archbishop's chapel, but the archbishop had no taste in music. Mozart was poorly paid and treated as a menial servant.

So he quit his job and moved to Vienna where he began to have more success as a composer. But he still couldn't pay his bills. There were bitter rivalries among the composers in Vienna, and many of them conspired to keep Mozart from gaining any success. When Mozart's work was performed, his enemies would actually create disturbances in the audience to sabotage the music. But Mozart still managed to attract notice for his work, and people began calling him the most promising composer of the era.

Mozart was sure he would soon receive an appointment as a court musician, which would give him financial security, so he got married in 1782. But he didn't receive the appointment, and quickly began to fall into debt. He was forced to support his wife by teaching private music lessons. His rivals continued to sabotage his career. But despite everything, he was having one of the most productive periods of his life as a composer. Between 1782 and 1785, he completed six string quartets, which he dedicated to the composer Joseph Hayden.

And then, in 1785, Mozart collaborated with an Italian poet on The Marriage of Figaro. Based on a French play, the opera tells the story of a single day in the palace of Count Almaviva. The count spends the day attempting to seduce Susanna, the young fiancée of the court valet, Figaro. Susanna and the countess conspire to embarrass the count and expose his infidelity.

It was a lighthearted, comic opera, but the musicians and singers could hardly believe the quality of the music. One singer, a man named Michael Kelly, later wrote, "I can still see Mozart, dressed in his red fur hat trimmed with gold, standing on the stage with the orchestra at the first rehearsal, beating time for the music. ... The players ... were electrified. ... Had Mozart written nothing but this piece of music, it alone would ... have stamped him as the greatest master of his art." But The Marriage of Figaro closed after only nine performances.

It's the birthday of novelist and short story writer Bobbie Ann Mason, (books by this author) born in Mayfield, Kentucky (1940). She grew up in rural Kentucky, the daughter of dairy farmers. When she got to high school, she realized just how different she was from the city kids. She became the first member of her family to go to college, and she eventually got a Ph.D. from the University of Connecticut. She wrote her dissertation about the novelist Vladimir Nabokov. By the time she was done, she said, "I was so sick of reading about the alienated hero of superior sensibility that I thought I would write about just the opposite."

She began to write short stories about people in her home state of Kentucky.

Bobbie Ann Mason said, "I have always found it difficult to start [writing] with a definite idea about a character, or even a definite emotion. ... But if I start with a pond that is being drained because of a diesel fuel leak, and a cow named Hortense, and some blackbirds flying over, and a woman in the distance waving, then I might get somewhere."

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




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