Oct. 16, 2008

Stopping along the Way

by David Wagoner

Heading south toward campus, my car
stops suddenly, abruptly, almost
on its own. My right foot
has found the brake pedal
before my eyes can admire
a very young possum strolling
across our right of way
at his personal intersection
of human cross-purposes,
some of whose brakes are squeaking
behind us now. The possum
pauses, lowers his gray-pink-
and-sooty snout to drink in
the odor of something
among the fallen and flattened
sycamore leaves. I've seen
too many of him lying down
even flatter than seemed
possible beside roads
and in gutters. I realize
my car's mere presence looming
over him won't quicken
those four deliberate paws,
won't urge him out of danger,
but before I can think or make
some warning sign, two cars
are honking. He lifts his head
dreamily, comparing
that sound to some distant sound
somewhere deep, far back
in his old, new mind, then begins
strolling forward again
and up onto the grass
among the unloaded, locked,
and abandoned bicycles
and empties and leaflets left
by fraternal and sisterly
orders on their own ways
to and from understanding
or back to forbidden gardens
and holes in the ground. Again
a car behind me honks.
And another. It's what geese do
heading south at the beginning
of winter. They want to know
the one in front still believes
they're there and are trusting him
to be sure where they're all going.

"Stopping along the Way" by David Wagoner from A Map of the Night. © University of Illinois Press, 2008. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of the often-quoted Irish writer Oscar Wilde, (books by this author) born in Dublin in 1854. He said, "I think that God in creating Man somewhat overestimated his ability." And he said, "The only thing to do with good advice is pass it on. It is never any use to oneself." And he also said, "I can resist anything but temptation." He's the author of the plays Lady Windermere's Fan (1892), An Ideal Husband (1895), and The Importance of Being Earnest (1895).

It's the birthday of American playwright Eugene O'Neill, (books by this author) born in a Broadway hotel room in New York City in 1888. His plays were the first American tragedies, the first to use slang, and the first to use special effects like dramatic lighting and masks. He wrote Desire Under the Elms (1924), Long Day's Journey Into Night (1955), and many other plays.

It's the birthday of the novelist Günter Grass, (books by this author) born in 1927 in Danzig, Germany (now Gdansk, Poland). He's best known for his first novel, The Tin Drum (1959). The main character is a boy who decides to stop growing so that he won't have to participate in the Nazi regime. He can scream loudly enough to break glass, and he communicates only by pounding his toy drum.

It's the birthday of Noah Webster, (books by this author) born in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1758. He spent 20 years working on an American dictionary that contained more than 70,000 words, and he did all the research and writing himself.

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