May 10, 2010


by C. K. Williams

There was nothing I could have done—
a flurry of blackbirds burst
from the weeds at the edge of a field
and one veered out into my wheel
and went under. I had a moment
to hope he'd emerge as sometimes
they will from beneath the back
of the car and fly off,
but I saw him behind on the roadbed,
the shadowless sail of a wing
lifted vainly from the clumsy
bundle of matter he'd become.

There was nothing I could have done,
though perhaps I was distracted:
I'd been listening to news of the war,
hearing that what we'd suspected
were lies had proved to be lies,
that many were dying for those lies,
but as usual now, it wouldn't matter.
I'd been thinking of Lincoln's
"...You can't fool all of the people
all of the time...," how I once
took comfort from the hope and trust
it implied, but no longer.

I had to slow down now,
a tractor hauling a load of hay
was approaching on the narrow lane.
The farmer and I gave way and waved:
the high-piled bales swayed
menacingly over my head but held.
Out in the harvested fields,
already disliked and raw,
more blackbirds, uncountable
clouds of them, rose, held
for an instant, then broke,
scattered as though by a gale.

"Blackbird" by C.K. Williams, from Wait. © Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2010. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of musician and composer "Mother" Maybelle Carter, born in Copper Creek, Virginia (1909).  When she was 18, she and her cousin Sara and brother-in-law A.P. Carter cut an audition record at a temporary studio in Bristol, Tennessee, for Ralph Peer of the Victor Talking Machine Company. Also recording that day, Jimmie Rodgers, "The Singing Brakeman." Peer's recordings are known as the Bristol Sessions — considered the official beginning of country music in the United States. Through the years, the Carters recorded many traditional songs, including "Wabash Cannonball," "Wildwood Flower," and "Will the Circle be Unbroken."

It's the birthday of dancer/actor Fred Astaire, born Frederick Austerlitz in Omaha, Nebraska (1899). Astaire and his sister, Adele, began dancing when she was six and he was four, making their professional debut in a brother-sister vaudeville act. The pair went on to star in a string of hit musicals on the Broadway and London stage, appearing in 11 shows before Adele married Lord Charles Cavendish in 1932, leaving Fred on his own. He went to Hollywood for a screen test, where a Paramount executive wrote about Astaire's performance: "Can't act. Can't sing. Balding. Can dance a little."

Today rock star Bono turns 50 years old. He's the lead singer of U2, and he writes almost all of the lyrics to the band's songs. He's won 22 Grammys. U2 was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame the first year the band was eligible. Albums include The Joshua Tree (1987), Achtung Baby (1991), and How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (2004). Bono is well known for his philanthropic work related to AIDS, Africa, and for Third World debt relief.

It's the birthday of filmmaker Jon Ronson, (books by this author) born in Cardiff, Wales (1967). He's also a journalist and the author of four books. Two were international best-sellers: Them: Adventures with Extremists (2001) and The Men Who Stare at Goats (2004).

The Men Who Stare at Goats is about a secret, idealistic New Age movement within the U.S. military, which began in the late 1970s. It's a non-fiction book. After the quagmire of Vietnam, Robson reports, high-ranking U.S. Army officials decided they needed to reassess the strategies used by American soldiers during warfare after Vietnam. They hired a consultant, a high-ranking retired military officer, who was familiar with the New Age/Human Potential Movement in California.

The consultant, Jim Channon, returned with a 125-page First Earth Battalion Operations Manual in 1979. It contained suggestions for training "warrior monks." It proposed that soldiers should be mostly vegetarian, practice meditation and yoga and primal screams, and use ginseng. They should carry into battle acupuncture kits, peace offerings like baby lambs, and audio speakers that would be used to play "indigenous music and words of peace" ahead of them. The book's title stems from Ronson's investigation of a former head of intelligence, Major General Stubblebine, who believed that with preparation and mindful channeling, people could kill goats by staring at them.

In the book, Ronson argues that this post-Vietnam secret New Age movement in the military evolved to influence the "psychological warfare" interrogation techniques used in the War on Terror. His book was made into a movie last year, starring George Clooney and Ewan McGregor.

It's the birthday of prolific young-adult novelist Caroline Cooney, (books by this author) born in Geneva, New York (1947). In the past 30 years, she's written more than 60 books, including her best-known The Face on the Milk Carton (1990), about a teenager who thinks she's been kidnapped. It was later made into a movie.

Her recent novels for young adults include Code Orange (2005), Hit the Road (2005), A Friend at Midnight (2006), Diamonds in the Shadows (2007), and If the Witness Lied (2009).

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




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