Aug. 19, 2010

Midsummer, Georgia Avenue

by Mary Jo Salter

Happiness: a high, wide porch, white columns
crowned by the crepe-paper party hats
of hibiscus; a rocking chair; iced tea; a book;
an afternoon in late July to read it,
or read the middle of it, having leisure
to mark that place and enter it tomorrow
just as you left it (knock-knock of woodpecker
keeping yesterday's time, cicada's buzz,
the turning of another page, and somewhere
a question raised and dropped, the pendulum-
swing of a wind chime). Back and forth, the rocker
and the reading eye, and isn't half

your jittery, odd joy the looking out
now and again across the road to where,
under the lush allées of long-lived trees
conferring shade and breeze on those who feel
none of it, a hundred stories stand confined,
each to their single page of stone? Not far,
the distance between you and them: a breath,
a heartbeat dropped, a word in your two-faced
book that invites you to its party only
to sadden you when it's over. And so you stay
on your teetering perch, you move and go nowhere,
gazing past the heat-struck street that's split

down the middle—not to put too fine
a point on it—by a double yellow line.

"Midsummer, Georgia Avenue" by Mary Jo Salter, from Open Shutters. © Alfred A. Knopf, 2003 Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Li-Young Lee, (books by this author) born in Jakarta, Indonesia (1957).

It's the birthday of poet and short-story writer Josephine Jacobsen, (books by this author) born in Cobourg, Ontario (1908).

It was on this day in 1936 that the 38-year-old Spanish poet Federico García Lorca (books by this author) was executed, a few weeks after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. In those first weeks, people on both sides — the leftist republicans and the right-wing nationalists — were rounded up and killed, as many as 50,000, with particularly heavy casualties against the republicans.

Lorca was a leftist sympathizer, an open homosexual, and a writer who wrote about oppressed people like gypsies, so he was an easy target for the nationalists.

It's the birthday of Madame du Barry, the mistress of Louis XV, born Jeanne Bécu in Vaucouleurs, France (1743). The officer of the king's troops, Monsieur de Belleval, described her in his memoirs: "I can still see her carelessly seated or rather reclining in a large easy chair, wearing a white dress with wreaths of roses. She was one of the prettiest women at a court which boasted so many, and the very perfection of her loveliness made her the most fascinating. Her hair, which she often left unpowdered, was of a beautiful golden color and she had so much that she scarcely knew what to do with it all. Her wide blue eyes looked at one with an engaging frankness. She had a straight little nose and a complexion of a dazzling purity. In a word, I like everyone else fell immediately under her charm."

After the king died from smallpox in 1774, Madame du Barry wasn't welcome at the new court, but she continued to live in luxury and have affairs with various powerful noblemen. She was suspected of giving money to help people escape from France during the Reign of Terror, and in 1793, at the age of 50, she was sentenced to death and executed by guillotine.

It's the birthday of Bill Clinton, (books by this author)born William Jefferson Blythe III in Hope, Arkansas (1946). His father died in a car accident three months before he was born, and his mom got remarried to a man named Roger Clinton. As a teenager Bill took his stepfather's last name as a gesture of respect, even though his stepfather was abusive, and an alcoholic, and the family didn't have much money. Clinton wrote: "My father left me with the feeling that I had to live for two people, and that if I did it well enough, somehow I could make up for the life he should have had. And his memory infused me, at a younger age than most, with a sense of my own mortality. The knowledge that I, too, could die young drove me both to try to drain the most out of every moment of life and to get on with the next big challenge."

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




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