Thursday June 18, 2015

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Reading Late

We walked between the ponds at World’s Fair Park
the first night we knew something definite had hold of us,

conversations reaching not much beyond favorite bands,
least favorite jobs. We had not held hands.

Nothing existed of our daughter, not yet a nameless dream,
or the years we chased snakes out of the baseboards

in the house by Sapsucker Woods, driving home late
to find deer on their hind legs foraging our bird feeders.

This book we write together keeps me turning pages
deep into the night, re-reading the chapters on eloping

to Charlottesville, eating boiled crawfish at Mardi Gras.
Tension rises through pages about devotion and doubt,

as the main characters grow steadily beyond our grasp,
suspended from the hidden strings of this love story

that opens in such a beautiful setting, develops with so much
indirection and suspense, I can’t stand to put it down.

"Reading Late” by Jesse Graves from Basin Ghosts. © Texas Review Press, 2014. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

On this day in 1923, Checker Taxi put its first cab on the street. The boxy yellow cars were used in many American cities, but they became closely identified with New York City. The last of the roomy gas-guzzlers rolled off the company's Michigan assembly line in 1982, and The New York Times published the headline, "Checker Taxi, 60, Dies of Bulk in Kalamazoo." The cars became an increasingly rare sight on the streets of New York, and the last Checker cab was retired in 1999, with almost a million miles on its odometer.

Today is the birthday of English poet and literary critic Geoffrey Hill (1932) (books by this author), born in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire. He went to Oxford to study English in 1950, and he published his first poems two years later. His collections include For the Unfallen (1958), King Log (1968), Mercian Hymns (1971), Canaan (1997), The Triumph of Love (1998), and The Orchards of Syon (2002).

His work has been called "difficult," but he defended difficulty as the province of artists in an interview with The Paris Review in 2000: "We are difficult. Human beings are difficult. We're difficult to ourselves, we're difficult to each other. And we are mysteries to ourselves, we are mysteries to each other. One encounters in any ordinary day far more real difficulty than one confronts in the most 'intellectual' piece of work. Why is it believed that poetry, prose, painting, music should be less than we are? Why does music, why does poetry have to address us in simplified terms, when if such simplification were applied to a description of our own inner selves we would find it demeaning? I think art has a right — not an obligation — to be difficult if it wishes."

It's the birthday of Paul McCartney, born in Liverpool, England, in 1942. His father, Jim, was a cotton salesman who occasionally led "Jim Mac's Jazz Band" on the trumpet and piano. He was 15 years old when he went to a church festival, and he saw an older boy, something of a troublemaker, who was singing on stage with his skiffle band. The boy kept getting the words wrong and making up new lyrics as he went along. This was John Lennon, and Paul got a chance to impress him after the show with his mastery of "Twenty Flight Rock." He later recalled: "I also knocked around on the backstage piano and that would have been 'A Whole Lot of Shakin'' by Jerry Lee. That's when I remember John leaning over, contributing a deft right hand in the upper octaves and surprising me with his beery breath. It's not that I was shocked, it's just that I remember this particular detail." Lennon later invited McCartney to join his band, the Quarrymen, and one of music's great partnerships was born.

On this day in 1812, Congress declared war on Great Britain. The War of 1812, as it came to be known, was triggered in part by the Napoleonic Wars between Britain and France. Neither of the two squabbling nations wanted the United States to trade with its rival; Britain went a step further by seizing U.S. citizens off of American ships and impressing them into service with the Royal Navy. This didn't sit well with Americans, who were irritated with the British for not withdrawing from territory around the Great Lakes, and for supporting the Indians in conflicts with settlers in the northeastern United States. President Jefferson first tried to put pressure on Great Britain through its pocketbook, with trade embargoes; these ended up devastating the American shipping economy without doing much to hurt either Britain or France. Finally, in 1812, President Madison signed a Declaration of War, which was narrowly approved by Congress. Unknown to the United States, Britain had agreed to repeal the offending trade orders two days before, but the news didn't reach our shores for nearly a month.

On this day in 1815, Napoleon Bonaparte met his final defeat at the Battle of Waterloo, in Belgium. Napoleon and Michel Ney led the French army of around 69,000 troops against the Duke of Wellington and about 67,000 multinational — British, Dutch, Belgian, and German — troops, with the added forces of Gebhard von Blücher's 48,000-strong Prussian army, which arrived near the end of the day. Napoleon had surrendered the previous year, and was exiled to the Island of Elba off the coast of Italy; he escaped in March 1815 and regained control of his empire, and the allied forces reassembled to depose him once again.

It had rained heavily on the night of June 17, so Napoleon delayed the start of the battle from early morning until midday, to give the ground time to dry out. That delay gave the Prussian army time to meet up with Wellington's forces, and cost the French the battle.

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