Jul. 29, 2008

The Snowy Day

by Elizabeth Spires

The last time I saw you, we met for coffee on a snowy day.
Outside the window of the coffee shop, the snow fell silently

& heavily, the traffic on Coldspring Lane blurred & vague,
each car a cumbersome dream vehicle plowing comically into eternity.

But there you were, real as day, drinking a real cup of coffee.
You were back from India, you had slept for two days, the coffee

tasted wonderful, you said. You had flown to a mountain monastery
to find in prayer & silence what you could not find in the everyday,

taking only a few books, a change of clothes, because for too long you
had carried your life like two suitcases heavy enough to kill you.

When it snows, everything is light & dark at the same time. Black coffee
in a white cup, the hours leaked away, until our cups were empty,

the afternoon gone. Then a kiss on the cheek, a door opening out
into the cold, & I was walking away, up a slippery snowy hill
      nothing at all

like your mountain & so little to hold onto. That night the snow fell
& fell & fell, erasing every landmark, quieting the world for a while.

Later, after you died, I had a dream. The phone was ringing.
It was you, your voice, on the other end of the line, laughing

as you said, "Beth, it's Greg. I'm in the hospital. I'm not dead."

"The Snowy Day" by Elizabeth Spires from The Wave-Maker: Poems. © W. W. Norton & Company, 2008. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Edwin O'Connor, (books by this author) a journalist, novelist, and radio personality, born in 1918 in Providence, Rhode Island. He wrote about Irish-Americans in Boston, especially about politicians and priests. His novel The Last Hurrah (1956) is about a gentlemanly politician who quotes literature and is mildly corrupt, and who might be based loosely on Boston mayor James Michael Curley—the way the ambitious family of Massachusetts politicians in his novel All in the Family(1966) have similarities to the Kennedys. O'Connor's novel The Edge of Sadness(1961) is about a middle-aged priest. It won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and the first line of the book is "This story at no point becomes my own."

It's the birthday of the poet Stanley Kunitz, (books by this author) born in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1905. He attended Harvard University, where he wanted to teach in the English department, but he was told that Anglo-Saxon students wouldn't want to be taught by a Jew. He said, "That almost broke my heart. And I think in the end it probably did me a great favor because it prevented me from becoming a completely preoccupied scholar." He went on to work as a farmer, and he served in WWII when his conscientious objector status was denied.

Stanley Kunitz published his first book of poetry when he was 25, called Intellectual Things (1930), and he continued to write and publish for 75 years. In 2000, he published The Collected Poems of Stanley Kunitz, and that same year he was named poet laureate of the United States, when he was 95 years old, He died at age 100.

Stanley Kunitz said, "Poetry is inseparable from my life force, and that began very early. It was a great gift, and it has sustained me through the years, and the losses that have attended those years."

He said, "The poem comes in the form of a blessing, like the rapture breaking through on the mind."

And, "Old myths, old gods, old heroes have never died. They are only sleeping at the bottom of our mind, waiting for our call. We have need for them. They represent the wisdom of our race."

It's the birthday of French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville, (books by this author) born in Paris (1805). He's remembered for the book Democracy in America (1835), which is still considered one of the best books ever written about America. When he was 25 years old when he got the idea to go to America. He went with his best friend, Gustave de Beaumont, They stopped in Newport, and then arrived in Manhattan at sunrise May 11, 1831. In a letter to his mother, Tocqueville wrote, "So here we are in New-York. They travelled more than 7,000 miles in nine months. Afterwards Tocqueville went back to France and finished Democracy in America (1835) in less than a year.

What impressed Toqueville the most was that American democracy actually worked. He wrote, "America demonstrates invincibly one thing that I had doubted up to now: that the middle classes can govern a State. ... Despite their small passions, their incomplete education, their vulgar habits, they can obviously provide a practical sort of intelligence and that turns out to be enough."

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




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