Apr. 4, 2008

Assignment #1: Write a poem about Baseball and God

by Philip E. Burnham, Jr

And on the ninth day, God
In His infinite playfulness
Grass green grass, sky blue sky,
Separated the infield from the outfield,
Formed a skin of clay,
Assigned bases of safety
On cardinal points of the compass
Circling the mountain of deliverance,
Fashioned a wandering moon
From a horse, a string and a gum tree,
Tempered weapons of ash,
Made gloves from the golden skin of sacrificial bulls,
Set stars alight in the Milky Way,
Divided the descendants of Cain and Abel into contenders,
Declared time out, time in,        stepped back,
And thundered over all of creation:
                                       "Play ball!"

"Assignment #1: Write a poem about Baseball and God" by Philip E. Burnham, Jr. from Housekeeping: Poems Out of the Ordinary. © Ibbetson Street Press, 2005. Reprinted with permission.

On this day in 1968, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, where he had gone to support the city's sanitation workers in their strike for better working conditions. The night before he died, he gave a speech at the Mason Temple Church in which he said, "I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land."

It's the birthday of reformer Dorothea Dix, born in Hampden, Maine (1802), whose devotion to the mentally ill led to widespread reforms in the U.S. and abroad. She left home at 10, was teaching school by 14, and founded a Boston home for girls while still in her teens. She was one of the first Americans to argue that mentally ill people should not be treated as criminals, and she established the first hospitals dedicated to humane treatment of the insane.

It's the birthday of Maya Angelou, (books by this author) born Marguerite Annie Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri (1928), the author of six autobiographical volumes, including I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1970). As a teenager, she and her mom and brother moved to San Francisco. There she became a streetcar conductor, the first black person and the first woman to be one there. She was only 16. A few months after graduating from high school, she gave birth to a son. Later, she married a Greek sailor named Tosh Angelos and began using a variation of his surname — Angelou — for her stage name at the Purple Onion cabaret in San Francisco, where she was a calypso dancer. She toured Europe as a dancer in a government-sponsored production of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, and when she returned to the U.S., she settled in New York City, where she performed off-Broadway, sang at the Apollo Theater, and started going to meetings of the Harlem Writer's Guild. She met James Baldwin and Jules Feiffer, who thought that she should write about her life in the manner that she spoke, in the "same rhythmical cadences with which she mesmerized" her friends and others with whom she interacted. She did, in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. The sixth volume of her autobiography, A Song Flung Up to Heaven, came out in 2002.

It's the birthday of novelist and screenwriter Marguerite Duras, (books by this author) born in a small village near Saigon in what was then French Indochina (1914). After her father died of dysentery, her mother struggled to support the family, and she was so distracted that she forgot to enroll her children in school. Duras said, "For two years I ran wild; it was probably the time in my life I came closest to complete happiness. At eight, I still couldn't read or write." Her mother bought some land, hoping to farm it, but it turned out to be worthless. Still, the family was able to scrape enough money together to send Duras to school in Saigon.

While Duras was going to high school in Saigon, she began an affair with an older, wealthy Chinese man, which ended when she graduated from high school and went to college in France. She kept the affair secret for the next 50 years, while writing short, experimental novels such as The Sea Wall (1953) and The Sailor from Gibraltar (1966), and screenplays for films such as Hiroshima Mon Amour (1966).

Then at the age of 70, after struggling with alcoholism for much of her life, Duras decided to write a novel based on her adolescent affair with the Chinese man. That novel was The Lover (1984), and it was her first major literary success, becoming an international best seller and winning France's top literary prize.

It's the birthday of blues great "Muddy Waters" (McKinley Morganfield), born in Rolling Fork, Mississippi (1915). His mother died when he was three, and while a young child, he taught himself to play harmonica and guitar. On a Sunday in August 1941, while Waters was standing in the middle of a cotton field getting ready to use the tractor, word got to him that a white man was looking for him. His first thought was that the police had found out that he had been selling whiskey on the sly, and he turned and walked across the field to the plantation store where he met the white man who had been looking for him. It turned out to be Alan Lomax, a folklorist for the Library of Congress.

Lomax asked Waters if he wanted to record some blues for the U.S. government. As Waters was thinking over his answer, he glanced into the backseat of Lomax's car, where he noticed a recording machine, a disc cutter, a generator, and a beautiful Martin guitar. Waters agreed to play for Lomax, and the two headed to Waters' house where they sealed their friendship by toasting some of Waters' home-brewed whiskey.

The experience gave Waters enough courage to move to Chicago and start his own music career. He soon broke from country blues by playing electric guitar in a slide style, but never gave up his country blues style entirely. He played in various bands in bars on the south side of Chicago, and in 1950, he made the first recording for Chess Records, a tune called "Rolling Stone." He later became famous for songs like "Hoochie-Koochie Man" and "Got My Mojo Working."

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




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