Oct. 18, 2008

Planting a Sequoia

by Dana Gioia

All afternoon my brothers and I have worked in the orchard,
Digging this hole, laying you into it, carefully packing the soil.
Rain blackened the horizon, but cold winds kept it over the Pacific,
And the sky above us stayed the dull gray
Of an old year coming to an end.

In Sicily a father plants a tree to celebrate his first son's birth—
An olive or a fig tree-a sign that the earth has one more life to bear.
I would have done the same, proudly laying new stock into my father's
A green sapling rising among the twisted apple boughs,
A promise of new fruit in other autumns.

But today we kneel in the cold planting you, our native giant,
Defying the practical custom of our fathers,
Wrapping in your roots a lock of hair, a piece of an infant's birth cord,
All that remains above earth of a first-born son,
A few stray atoms brought back to the elements.

We will give you what we can — our labor and our soil,
Water drawn from the earth when the skies fail,
Nights scented with the ocean fog, days softened by the circuit of
We plant you in the corner of the grove, bathed in western light,
A slender shoot against the sunset.

And when our family is no more, all of his unborn brothers dead,
Every niece and nephew scattered, the house torn down,
His mother's beauty ashes in the air,
I want you to stand among strangers, all young and ephemeral to you,
Silently keeping the secret of your birth.

"Planting a Sequoia" by Dana Gioia from The Gods of Winter. © Graywolf Press, 1991. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of the journalist A.J. Liebling, (books by this author) born Abbott Joseph Liebling in New York City, 1904. He got kicked out of Dartmouth for missing too many chapel services, so he became a reporter. He was a WWII correspondent for The New Yorker, and he ignored politics and combat strategy and just wrote about day-to-day life among the soldiers and the civilians. One of his most famous books is Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris (1959). He said, "I can write better than anybody who can write faster, and I can write faster than anybody who can write better."

It's the birthday of the playwright Wendy Wasserstein, (books by this author) born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1950. While she was growing up, she went to see Broadway plays every Saturday afternoon, and in high school, she got out of gym class by volunteering to write the musical revue for the annual mother-daughter luncheon. She went on to write many plays of her own, including The Heidi Chronicles (1988) and An American Daughter (1997).

On this day in 1896, Anton Chekhov's play The Seagull premiered in St. Petersburg. Most of the audience were confused and thought it was going to star a well-known comic actress. But when they realized she wasn't part of the cast, and that the play wasn't very funny, the audience rioted. The actors had only rehearsed a few times, and they kept forgetting their lines. The performance was a total failure, and Chekhov declared he would never write another play. But before the end of the year, he had begun work on Uncle Vanya (1897).

It's the birthday of Ntozake Shange, (books by this author) born Paulette Williams in Trenton, New Jersey, in 1948. She's most famous for her 1975 play, for colored girls who considered suicide/ when the rainbow is enuf.

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




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