Jul. 21, 2012


by Rhina P. Espaillat

Arrayed as if this ward were some bright deck
scrubbed for a long, romantic, costly cruise,
they wait for passengers, steel arm and neck
gleaming with welcome. Three, exchanging views,
huddle like cronies glad to be aboard
together among strangers; here and there
a loner muses; two lean close to hoard
some gossip much too scandalous to share.

Nurses in soft pastels chatter and smile;
light music tinkles somewhere overhead,
and floral paintings in a sprightly style
conjure the ghost of summer, long since dead.
But wheelchairs, glinting, wink as if to say,
Not now, not yet, but you and I, someday..."

"Wheelchairs" by Rhina P. Espaillat, from Playing At Stillness. © Truman State University Press, 2005. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today is the anniversary of the first Wild West showdown. It happened in the market square in Springfield, Missouri, in 1865. The parties involved were James Butler "Wild Bill" Hickok — a professional gambler and former Union scout — and Davis Tutt, a cowboy and former Confederate soldier. The two men had a falling out over a woman and a gambling debt, and finally agreed to settle their differences in a duel. They faced off at a distance of about 75 paces, and fired simultaneously. Tutt's shot went wild, but Hickok's hit Tutt through the heart.

A few years later, George Ward Nichols published a story about Hickok in Harper's New Monthly Magazine that made the gunslinger a household name throughout the country.

An excerpt from the Harper's profile:
"In vain did I examine the scout's face for some evidence of murderous propensity. It was a gentle face, and singular only in the sharp angle of the eye, and without any physical reason for the opinion, I have thought his wonderful accuracy of aim was indicated by this peculiarity. He told me, however, to use his own words: 'I allers shot well; but I come ter be perfeck in the mountains by shootin at a dime for a mark, at bets of half a dollar a shot. And then until the war I never drank liquor nor smoked,' he continued, with a melancholy expression; 'war is demoralizing, it is.'"

It's the birthday of poet Hart Crane (books by this author), born in Garrettsville, Ohio (1899). He grew up in Cleveland, to parents who were unhappily married and eventually divorced when he was 17. He never took the family discord well, and for the rest of his life, he carried a reputation for being emotionally volatile. He moved to New York City in 1923, where he sold advertising and published his first book, White Buildings, three years later. He hung around with other poets, like E.E. Cummings and Allen Tate. Cummings reportedly said, "Crane's mind was no bigger than a pin, but it didn't matter; he was a born poet." He liked the city, and often in his work he created a bridge between his contemporary world and ages gone by; in fact, his best-known work is an epic poem called The Bridge (1930).

In spite of his success as a poet, Crane never escaped his own inner torments. On a ship home from Mexico, he jumped overboard and was lost to the Caribbean Ocean in 1932.

Today is the birthday of Ernest Hemingway (books by this author), born in Oak Park, Illinois (1899). He started his writing life as a journalist, but when he was in Paris after World War I, working as a foreign correspondent for the Toronto Star, he was encouraged to take a more literary turn by other American writers like Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, and Gertrude Stein. His first collection of short stories, In Our Time, was published in 1925.

Both U.S. presidential candidates of 2008 cited Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940) as one of their favorite books. It's about an American teacher, Robert Jordan, who volunteers to go fight in the Spanish Civil War and, after being wounded in battle, contemplates shooting himself to end the pain. But when the enemy comes into sight, Jordan delays their approach so that his own comrades can escape to safety. And then he dies.

Here's an excerpt from the first chapter of For Whom the Bell Tolls:

"The young man, whose name was Robert Jordan, was extremely hungry and he was worried. He was often hungry but he was not usually worried because he did not give any importance to what happened to himself and he knew from experience how simple it was to move behind the enemy lines in all this country. It was as simple to move behind them as it was to cross through them, if you had a good guide. It was only giving importance to what happened to you if you were caught that made it difficult; that and deciding whom to trust. You had to trust the people you worked with completely or not at all, and you had to make decisions about the trusting. He was not worried about any of that. But there were other things."

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




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