Dec. 13, 2011

Italian Couple Exposed in Photo-Booth Tryst

by David Citino

Caught in flagrante, stowing away
in steerage, a do-it-yourself love boat.

Privacy is hard to come by. Lovers
need to find new ways to say So long.

They had an hour before his sad train
withdrew from the terminal,

leaving her unsatisfied in the way
only one left bereft on the brink can be.

They'd have gotten away with it
had their passion not pounded, rocked

the booth, shaking the curtain, two actors
fumbling for the same grand entrance,

as tourists and commuters thronging
in the Genoa train station swelled

to an audience outside the hot-flashing
Bower of Bliss. We can't be content

with the art of being human in the dark,
our grand dance. We need to make

acts of art of the very acts of life,
so that later—in the tranquility

we're doomed as humans to undergo
for long spells, or briefly every now

and then—we can know what it is
not to be silent, cold, alone.

"Italian Couple Exposed in Photo-Booth Tryst" by David Citino, from The Invention of Secrecy. © Ohio State University Press, 2001. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Sir Francis Drake set off on a trip around the world on this date in 1577. As a privateer of Queen Elizabeth I, Drake was, in essence, a royally sanctioned pirate. By the time he left on this voyage, he was already infamous for raiding Caribbean ports and commandeering Spanish gold ships, and the Spaniards hated and feared him; some even believed he was a dark wizard. The queen commissioned him to sail the Atlantic Ocean in search of Terra Australis Incognita — a continent that was believed to lie south of South America — and if he happened to pick up some Spanish gold or silver on the way, so much the better. He left Plymouth in command of a fleet of five ships; in the end, only his ship, the Golden Hind, completed the circumnavigation. His journey took him from England to the Atlantic coast of North and South America, and through the Strait of Magellan. Then he made his way up the Pacific coast, where he raided and pillaged for five and a half months. He went about his piracy in a gentlemanly fashion; violence was kept to a minimum and no one was intentionally harmed in his raids. He went as far as northern California, which he named "Nova Albion" and claimed for Elizabeth. From there, he sailed through the Indian Ocean, around the Cape of Good Hope, and home to Plymouth once more, his ship heavy-laden with gold, silver, and spices.

Today is the 375th birthday of the United States Army National Guard, formed in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1636. It's the oldest branch of the country's military: 139 years older than the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps; and 311 years older than the Air Force. Individual towns in other colonies had formed their own militias, but the Massachusetts Bay was the only region whose population density was great enough to warrant the formation of more than one regiment. Towns around Boston were grouped into the North, South, and East regiments. Because the Massachusetts Bay Colony still considered itself British, the General Court ordered the formation of a traditional English militia: all able-bodied men were obligated to own arms and participate in the defense of the colony, whether by upholding its laws or defending against attack. Militiamen took turns serving in nightly guard details, and drilled weekly. The Army National Guard has participated in every American war or conflict since the Pequot War of 1637.

It's the birthday of playwright and actor Marc Connelly (books by this author), born in McKeesport, Pennsylvania (1890). His parents were actors, and his father also ran a hotel. Connelly moved to New York City when he was 27, and took a job as a theater critic for The Morning Telegraph. He eventually met and befriended his counterpart at The New York Times, George S. Kaufman, with whom he collaborated on a number of plays, including Dulcy (1921), Merton of the Movies (1922), and Beggar on Horseback (1924). Connelly won the Pulitzer Prize for Green Pastures (1930), a retelling of Bible stories through the framework of Southern African-American culture. Beginning in the late 1950s, Connelly followed in his parents' footsteps by taking up an acting career. He appeared in more than 20 movies.

He was also a member of the Algonquin Round Table — the last surviving member, in fact — and, although he was often taciturn, he could trade zingers with the best of them, should the need arise. One man, feeling Connelly's hairless scalp, observed, "Why, your head feels as smooth as my wife's behind!" Connelly, reaching up to feel for himself, remarked, "So it does, so it does." He lacked a sense of urgency when it came to producing new work, though, prompting Kaufman to say, "Charles Dickens, dead, writes more than Marc Connelly alive."

It's the birthday of poet James Wright (1927) (books by this author), born in Martins Ferry, Ohio. He helped put the Midwest on the poetry map at a time when much of the attention was given to the poets of the East and West Coasts. Martins Ferry was an industrial town, and Wright's father worked in the glass factory there. Wright joined the Army during World War II, and after he was discharged, he went to Kenyon College on the GI Bill. His first book of poetry, The Green Wall, was published in 1956 and was awarded the Yale Younger Poets Prize. Saint Judas (1959) followed three years later, and Wright thought that that was it for him. "After I finished that book I had finished with poetry forever," he told The Paris Review. "I truly believed that I had said what I had to say as clearly and directly as I could, and that I had no more to do with this art." But collaboration with Robert Bly, and visiting Bly and his wife Carol on their Minnesota farm, gave him a renewed sense of purpose. "They loved me and they saved my life. I don't mean just the life of my poetry, either." He went on to publish seven more books in his lifetime.

He said: "Sometimes there is a force of life like the spring which mysteriously takes shape without your even having asked it to take shape, and this is frightening, it is terribly frightening. ... Being a poet sometimes puts you at the mercy of life, and life is not always merciful."

Today is the birthday of Beth Lisick (1968) (books by this author). She was born in California's Bay Area, and she became a writer of poems and short stories chiefly so that she could read them at open-mic nights around San Francisco. She enjoyed interacting with the audience and didn't even mind being heckled, but it never occurred to her to try to publish any of her work. She was giving a spoken-word performance with some other poets when she was approached by an editor who wanted to include her work in the Best American Poetry anthology, and it was her first published writing. She's since published more poems, essays, a memoir, and two short-story collections. Her most recent book is Helping Me Help Myself: One Skeptic, Ten Self-Help Gurus, and a Year on the Brink of the Comfort Zone (2008).

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