Apr. 21, 2007

Saturday Matinee

by Mary Crow

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Poem: "Saturday Matinee" by Mary Crow, from I Have Tasted the Apple. © BOA Editions, Ltd. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Saturday Matinee

Gene Autry galloping hard on his pony,
in black and white, the ground and bushes gray,
toward gray mountains under a gray sky
where white clouds drift, hooves pounding
in the small theater as I sat forward
in my seat, my heart in my mouth with envy,
with longing for freedom, for Gene Autry,
the boy beside me sliding his hand over
for mine, the odor of popcorn in place

of sagebrush, and I saw myself inside
that movie, black hat on my head while
I rushed after him, my pony dapple-gray,
my hair long and blown back by the wind,
galloping so hard but upright western style,
a real cowgirl, and the hand in the theater
like some kind of insect I was brushing away,

my body wanting to rush after my mind—
away from that kid in his button-down shirt,
away from the white clapboard houses,
the dark deciduous forest on the edges
of town, the asphalt, the street lights,
and my father forbidding me to go
to the movie while I sobbed, sobbed
for love of Gene Autry, for love
of the wide open west, of horses
and galloping, for love, for love.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of humorist Josh Billings, (books by this author) born Henry Wheeler Shaw in Lanesboro, Massachusetts (1818). He was a popular newspaper columnist and also published several books, including Josh Billings on Ice (1868) and Josh Billings' Farmers' Allminax (1870).

Billings said, "There are many people who are always anticipating trouble, and in this way they manage to enjoy many sorrows that never really happen to them."

And he said, "Don't take the bull by the horns, take him by the tail; then you can let go when you want to."

It's the birthday of Charlotte Brontë, (books by this author) born in Thornton, Yorkshire, England (1816). After the death of her mother and two older sisters, Charlotte, her brother Branwell and her younger sisters Emily and Anne grew up in extraordinary isolation in the rural moors of England, where her father was a minister. When Charlotte was 10 years old, her father brought home a box of wooden soldiers. She and her siblings used the soldiers to invent an imaginary world that they called Angria, and they began to write poems, plays, and stories about the place.

As a young woman, Charlotte began to take a series of jobs working as a teacher and a governess. She found the work tedious, and often didn't get along with the children, but she kept at it, and as she worked she began to observe the more interesting details of the lives of the families she worked for. 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 on the second floor of his house.

That story stuck in Charlotte's head for years, and when she and her sisters began writing poetry and novels, Charlotte drew on that story for her novel Jane Eyre (1847). It was an immediate success. It went through three printings in less than a year, which was almost unheard of for a book by an unknown author at the time. Charlotte had published under the pseudonym Currer Bell, and the mystery of the author's true identity became the talk of London. Charlotte finally decided to reveal herself to her publishers. When she got to the publisher's office, they asked her what she wanted. Charlotte just showed them a letter they'd written to her pseudonym, Currer Bell. They asked her where she'd gotten the letter, and she said, "From the post office. It was addressed to me."

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. Charlotte Brontë once said, "I am neither a man nor a woman but an author."

It's the birthday of writer and naturalist John Muir, (books by this author) born in Dunbar, Scotland (1838). As a young man, he set out on a walking tour of the country, from Indianapolis to the Gulf of Mexico, and then he sailed to Cuba, Panama, and finally California, which would become his home for the rest of his life. He fell in love with the Sierra Mountains in California, and spent much of his time hiking and camping there. He also visited Alaska, South America, Australia, Africa, China, Europe, and Japan, studying plants, animals, rocks, and glaciers. He was largely responsible for the creation of Yosemite National Park in 1890, and in 1892, he helped found the Sierra Club. He also published more than 300 articles and 10 books, including The Mountains of California (1894).

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