Oct. 6, 2006

Hard Rain

by Tony Hoagland

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Poem: "Hard Rain" by Tony Hoagland from Hard Rain: A Chapbook. © Hollyridge Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Hard Rain

After I heard It's a Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall
played softly by an accordion quartet
through the ceiling speakers at the Springdale Shopping Mall,
I understood there's nothing
we can't pluck the stinger from,

nothing we can't turn into a soft drink flavor or a t-shirt.
Even serenity can become something horrible
if you make a commercial about it
using smiling, white-haired people

quoting Thoreau to sell retirement homes
in the Everglades, where the swamp has been
drained and bulldozed into a nineteen-hole golf course
with electrified alligator barriers.

You can't keep beating yourself up, Billy
I heard the therapist say on television
                                                         to the teenage murderer,
About all those people you killed—
You just have to be the best person you can be,

one day at a time—

and everybody in the audience claps and weeps a little,
because the level of deep feeling has been touched,
and they want to believe that
the power of Forgiveness is greater
than the power of Consequence, or History.

Dear Abby:
My father is a businessman who travels.
Each time he returns from one of his trips,
his shoes and trousers
                                   are covered with blood-
but he never forgets to bring me a nice present;
Should I say something?
                                                       Signed, America.

I used to think I was not part of this,
that I could mind my own business and get along,

but that was just another song
that had been taught to me since birth—

whose words I was humming under my breath,
as I was walking through the Springdale Mall.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1847 that Charlotte Brontë (books by this author) published her novel Jane Eyre. She, along with her sisters and her brother, had grown up in extraordinary isolation, it the rural moors of England, where her father was a minister. She and her siblings had created imaginary worlds for themselves as a way of coping with the isolation. But Charlotte was the member of the family who most wanted to get out into the real world. She fantasized about becoming rich and famous and traveling around Europe.

She took a series of jobs working as a teacher and as a governess. She was working at a small private school called Roe Head when she heard a story about a governess who had married a man only to learn that the man was already married. It turned out that his first wife had gone mad, and so he had locked her away in the second floor of his house.

The story stuck in Charlotte's head for years, and that story eventually became Jane Eyre (1847), about a poor orphan girl, raised by her cruel aunt, Mrs. Reed. Jane never gets along with her prettier cousins, but she works her way up to a position as a governess at the mysterious Thornfield Hall, and it is there that she begins to fall in love with her employer, Edward Rochester, only to learn that he is actually married. His wife, Bertha, is locked away on the third floor of the house.

The novel made Charlotte Brontë rich and famous, but unfortunately it did not fulfill her plan of helping the whole family. Within two years of publishing Jane Eyre, all of Charlotte's siblings had died of consumption. Charlotte died in childbirth a few years later in 1854.

It's the birthday of novelist and critic Caroline Gordon, (books by this author) born in Merry Mont, Kentucky (1895). Her books include the novel Aleck Maury, Sportsman (1934), Old Red and Other Stories (1963), and How to Read a Novel (1957).

On this day in 1930, William Faulkner (books by this author) published what he later said was his favorite of his own novels: As I Lay Dying.

On this day in 1866, the Reno brothers, John and Simeon Reno, pulled off the first train robbery in American history. They took $13,000 from an Ohio and Mississippi railroad train in Jackson County, Indiana.

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




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