Aug. 14, 2006

In the Cards

by Ronald Wallace

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Poem: "In the Cards" by Ronald Wallace from Long for This World: New and Selected Poems. © University of Pittsburgh Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

In the Cards

Midnight. She complains
in the nursing home they
play too slow, forget what's
led, make up their own rules,
cheat. My grandmother, 89, abloom
in her flower-print dress and Ben
Hogan golf cap, her tinted gray
spectacles and cane, her sensible
shoes, reviews the sleepy bidding.
She's waited all year for this:
her children sprawled around her
at the table one last time,
their scores climbing brightly
on the score pad.

Wide awake for once, she exclaims
how she's amazed by each new day,
her one blind eye a pool
of blue glacier water, her other
eye asquint and smiling, her lips
blue in this warm room, taking
tricks for all she's worth.
The evening blurs into beer,
smoke, Velveeta, and sleep.
Oh my, she remarks, hearts
are trump?
And they are,
and we hold the cards she's dealt us,
and we make our startled bids,
or go over, or go down.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of short-story writer Alice Adams, (books by this author) born in Fredericksburg, Virginia (1926). She had a difficult relationship with her mother, who was a failed writer. Adams grew up thinking that if she became a writer then maybe her mother would like her. She took a creative writing class in college. Her teacher said she was a very nice girl and she should get married and forget about all this writing.

She did get married, and had a child, but the marriage broke up, and she spent several years as a single mother, working as a secretary. Her psychiatrist told her to give up writing and get remarried, but instead she published her first novel, Careless Love (1966), and a few years later she published her first short story in The New Yorker. She wrote many novels but she's best known for her short stories, in collections like After You've Gone (1989) and The Last Lovely City (1999).

It's the birthday of comedian and humorist Steve Martin, (books by this author) born in Waco, Texas (1945). He's known as a comedian and actor, but he has also written several plays, including WASP (1995), Meteor Shower (1997), and in the year 2000 his novel Shopgirl (2000) was published. He said, "I believe entertainment can aspire to be art, and can become art, but if you set out to make art you're an idiot."

It's the birthday of the man who wrote the famous lines:

"Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light.
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
But there is no joy in Mudville—mighty Casey has struck out."

Ernest Thayer, (books by this author) author of the baseball poem "Casey at the Bat," was born on this day in Lawrence, Massachusetts (1863). He came from a wealthy manufacturing family and went to Harvard, where he edited Harvard Lampoon magazine. One of his co-editors was William Randolph Hearst, and it was Hearst who later gave him a job writing funny poems for the San Francisco Examiner's Sunday editions. He published "Casey at the Bat" in the Examiner on June 3, 1888. Thayer eventually quit writing poems for the Examiner. He never wrote anything else of value. He spent the later part of his life working on a book of philosophy that he never published.

It's the birthday of humorist and newspaper columnist Russell Baker, (books by this author) born in Loudoun County, Virginia (1925). He is the author of many books of essays, including Poor Russell's Almanac (1972), So This Is Depravity (1980), and the memoir Growing Up (1982). In high school, he won an essay contest with a composition called "The Art of Eating Spaghetti" and got a scholarship to Johns Hopkins University.

He later took a job for The Baltimore Sun, covering the police beat, and eventually worked his way up to being a White House correspondent. He thought that covering the president of the United States would be exciting, but it turned out to be incredibly boring. He said, "[Most of the job was] sitting in the lobby and listening to the older reporters breathe."

Eventually, Baker got a job writing a humor column called "The Observer" for The New York Times and was one of the first writers for the Times to write in casual American English. He won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1979. He said, "I've had an unhappy life, thank God."

It's the birthday of novelist John Galsworthy, (books by this author) born in Surrey, England (1867). It was on a sailing trip in the spring of 1893 that he met a man named Joseph Conrad, who was the first mate of the ship and was working on his first novel. Conrad told him all kinds of stories about adventures at sea. Galsworthy was so inspired by meeting someone who planned to write for a living that when he returned to London he gave up his law practice and began writing fiction.

His first great success was The Man of Property (1906). He based the novel's villain on his wife's ex-husband. After he finished the first draft, he spent two years rewriting and revising, and his wife went over every single word with him. The novel was a huge success and he followed it with sequels, including In Chancery (1920) and To Let (1921). Together the novels are known as The Forsyte Saga.

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




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