Sep. 24, 2010

Picking Pears

by Gary J. Whitehead

I stand on the top rung and the step ladder
   shakes; above me the winter pears just out
of reach, clean and strung heavy along limbs
   and swaying like my grandmother's aprons
hung on the line to dry. I drop one into
   the bag she holds open below me. She grins,
and I'm drawn into the embrace of her gaze—
   down into handfuls of earth, seasons, the empty
cup of a lost daughter, a lost breast.
   I'm stitched into miles of quilts, curtains,
tablecloths, hems of pants, skirts.
   I'm held to her like a button on a shirt pocket,
and I smell soap, tomatoes, chicken soup,
   Portuguese sweet bread, goat cheese, pears...
and I lower myself out and around the gnarl
   of branch, down the ladder to take the full
bag of the fruit I love, warm from
   the sun and spotted like her hands.

"Picking Pears" by Gary Whitehead, from The Velocity of Dust. © Salmon Publishing Ltd., 2004. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It was on this day in 1789 that the First United States Congress adopted the Judiciary Act of 1789, in which Congress established how federal courts should be set up and maintained. The Constitution said: "The judicial power of the United States, shall be vested in one Supreme Court, and in such inferior courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish."

So like many laws, the Judiciary Act of 1789 was a compromise between two sides. Congress established the details of the Supreme Court — that it would have six justices who would serve until their death or retirement. And it set up a whole system of circuit and district courts, which the Federalists wanted, and the anti-Federalists, who wanted to retain power in individual states, bitterly opposed.

It's the birthday of Eavan Boland (books by this author) born in Dublin in 1944. She was 18 when she self-published her first book of poems, 23 Poems (1962). She went on to publish many books of poetry, including In Her Own Image (1980), In a Time of Violence (1994), and most recently, a volume of New Collected Poems (2008).

Boland is often called a feminist poet. She said, "I'm a feminist. I'm not a feminist poet. I've said somewhere else that I think feminism has real power and authority as an ethic, but none at all as an aesthetic. My poetry begins for me where certainty ends. I think the imagination is an ambiguous and untidy place, and its frontiers are not accessible to the logic of feminism for that reason."

It's the birthday of F. Scott Fitzgerald, (books by this author) born Francis Scott Fitzgerald in St. Paul, Minnesota (1896). He was kicked out of Princeton and went to serve in the Army during World War I, and he was sent off to officer training camp. He said: "We all knew, of course, we were going to be killed. And I, like everybody else, wanted to leave something for posterity." So it was in the training camp that he wrote his first draft of a novel, which he called The Romantic Egotist.

He spent more than a year at Camp Sheridan in Alabama, by which point the war had ended, but it was there he met the love of his life, Zelda Sayre, who refused to marry him because he didn't have any money.

Desperate, he went back to St. Paul, where he lived with his parents for a few months and rewrote his novel, now called This Side of Paradise. He passed it on to Maxwell Perkins at Scribner's, who loved it. It was a huge success, selling out of its first printing in just three days; and about a week after it was published, Scott and Zelda got married.

Scott and Zelda were the golden couple of the Jazz Age. Years later, Fitzgerald said: "A writer like me must have an utter confidence, an utter faith in his star. It's an almost mystical feeling, a feeling of nothing-can-happen-to-me, nothing-can-harm-me, nothing-can-touch-me."

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




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