Apr. 9, 2008

The Raisin

by Donald Hall

I drank cool water from the fountain
in the undertaker's parlor
near the body of a ninety-two-year-old man.

Harry loved horses and work.
He curried the flanks of his Morgan;
he loaded crates twelve hours—to fill in
when his foreman got drunk—
never kicking a horse,
never kind to a son.

He sobbed on the sofa ten years ago,
when Sally died.
We heard of him dancing with
widows in Florida, cheek
to cheek, and of scented
letters that came to Connecticut
all summer.

When he was old he made up for the weeping
he failed to do earlier:
grandchildren, zinnias,
Morgans, great-grandchildren.
He wept over everything. His only
advice: "Keep your health."
He told old stories, laughing slowly.
He sang old songs.

Forty years ago his son
who was parked making love in the country
noticed Harry parked making love
in a car up ahead.

When he was ninety he wanted to die.
He couldn't ride or grow flowers
or dance
or tend the plots in the graveyard
that he had kept up
faithfully, since Sally died.

This morning I looked into the pale
raisin of Harry's face.

"The Raisin" by Donald Hall, from White Apples and the Taste of Stone. © Houghton Mifflin Company, 2007. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of poet Charles Baudelaire, (books by this author) born in Paris (1821). He left behind only one major book of poetry, The Flowers of Evil (1857).

It was on this day in 1865 that General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Ulysses S. Grant, effectively ending the American Civil War. On April 5th, Grant sent a message to Lee that said, "General: The result of the last week must convince you of the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia in this struggle."

Lee wrote back to say, "Though not entirely of the opinion you express of the hopelessness of further resistance … I reciprocate your desire to avoid useless effusion of blood, and therefore, before considering your proposition, ask the terms you will offer, on condition of its surrender."

And so they met at the Appomattox Court House on April 9th, Palm Sunday, just after noon. Afterward, Lee rode back to his camp, and crowds of Confederate soldiers along the road began to weep as he passed.

It's the birthday of Eadweard Muybridge, born in Kingston upon Thames, England (1830). He immigrated to California in the 1850s, where he took up photography and quickly became one of the first internationally known photographers. Between 1867 and 1872, he took more than 2,000 photographs, many of them views of the Yosemite Valley.

It was Eadweard Muybridge who designed a new camera that could take a picture in one-thousandth of a second. To test his improvement, he set up 24 cameras along a racetrack with tripwires to pull the shutters. With those cameras, he managed to take a series of pictures of a horse galloping, proving for the first time that all four of a horse's hooves will sometimes be off the ground at the same time.

It's the birthday of Hugh Hefner, born in Chicago, Illinois (1926). He was brought up by strict Methodist parents. He was writing promotional copy for Esquire magazine when he got the idea for a new men's magazine that would be similar to Esquire but more daring.

Hefner financed the project with $600 of his own money, all the money that he had. He also raised about $10,000 by the sale of stock to friends. The result was Playboy magazine. The first issue featured a nude calendar photograph of Marilyn Monroe, which Hefner had bought from a calendar company for $200. It reached the newsstands in December of 1953 and sold out its press run of 53,991 copies at 50 cents a copy.

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




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