An elephant herd of storm clouds
trample overhead. The air vibrates
electrically. The wind is rough
as hide scraping my face.
Longhaired rain occludes the pines.
This storm seems personal. We
crouch under the weight of the laden
air, feeling silly to be afraid.
Water comes sideways attacking
the shingles. The skylight drips.
We feel trapped in high surf
and buffeted. When the nickel
moon finally appears dripping
we are as relieved as if an in-
truder had threatened us and
then walked off with a shrug.
“Hard rain and potent thunder” by Marge Piercy from Made in Detroit. © Knopf, 2015. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
It’s the birthday of poet and essayist Charles Simic (books by this author), born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia (1938). His mother’s family and his father’s family didn’t get on well. He remembered: “My mother’s family was fearful, paranoid, and secretive. They had lost their wealth and were worried about keeping up appearances. They had no sense of humor. Nothing was ever funny to them. My father’s family, when they got going at a dinner table, they were like a dadaist cabaret, so you can imagine how my poor mother felt in their company.” His family survived the bombing of Belgrade during World War II and fled Eastern Europe after the war was over. At first they lived in New York, which Simic said “looked like painted sets at a sideshow in a carnival,” and then moved to Chicago: “like a coffee-table edition of the Communist Manifesto, with glossy pictures of lakefront mansions and inner-city slums.” Eventually, the family wound up in Oak Park, Illinois, and Simic went to the same high school Ernest Hemingway had gone to. His first ambition was to be a painter; he didn’t start writing poetry until his last year of high school, and even then, he wasn’t too serious about it.
He published his first poems in 1959, when he was 21, and since that time he has published nearly three dozen books of poetry, many translations and works of prose, and served as the poet laureate of the United States.
On this night in 1671, Thomas Blood tried to steal the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London. Disguised as a priest, he managed to convince the Jewel House keeper to hand over his pistols. One of Blood’s accomplices shoved the Royal Orb down his breeches. Blood flattened the crown with a mallet and tried to run off with it, but they were caught in the act. King Charles was so impressed with Blood’s audacity that he pardoned him, restored his estates in Ireland, and gave him an annual pension of 500 pounds. Blood became a colorful celebrity all across the kingdom, and when he died in 1680, his body had to be exhumed in order to persuade the public that he was actually dead.
It’s the birthday of Richard Adams (books by this author), born in Newbury, England (1920). He’s best known for his first novel, Watership Down (1972), in which he wrote about a band of rabbits and their epic journey to find a new den. It was one of the first works of fiction about animals that tried to realistically portray how they eat, mate, live, and die. The only exception to the realism was that the rabbits could think and talk like humans.
It’s the birthday of journalist, novelist, and playwright J(ames) M(atthew) Barrie (books by this author), born in Angus, Scotland (1860). He was the seventh of eight children. When he was six years old, his older brother died in a skating accident. His mother fell into a deep depression, and Barrie tried to make her feel better by wearing his older brother’s clothes and doing things his older brother used to do. At some point, it occurred to Barrie that his dead brother would never grow up, and the idea stuck with him for the rest of his life.
As a young man, he became a very successful writer of sentimental novels and humorous plays. Then, after his marriage in 1894 didn’t produce any children, he started spending time with the children of one of his friends. He began to tell them stories about a boy who had run away to a place called Never Land, where he refused to grow up, and he named that boy Peter Pan.
Barrie first wrote about Peter Pan in a book of children’s stories called The Little White Bird (1902). Two years later, he produced the play Peter Pan, the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up (1904), which included the well-known story about Peter and Wendy and Captain Hook. Even though he’d produced many successful plays before, Barrie became obsessed with the production of Peter Pan. He rewrote the script more than 20 times. It was one of the most expensive productions ever attempted at that time, since it required the construction of harnesses and wires so that the actors could appear to fly around the stage.