Thursday Mar. 17, 2016

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There Will Be Things You Do

you won’t know why.
Maybe waiting to tie
your shoelaces

until everything else
is in place.
Could be you’ll slide

your egg yolks aside
eat every bit of bacon,
toast, whites while the forsaken

yellow orbs stare at you
from the side pocket
of your empty plate.

People will ask
why do you save
your yolks for last

and you won’t know—
won’t recall
the cousin from the south

came to visit one summer
ate his eggs so odd
your family said

stuck with you
like the way
you love to be kissed

on the back of your neck
can vaguely recollect
your mother’s kisses

after your bath
too gentle for memory.
There will be things you do

you won’t know why
like the way you look
up at the sky

when anxious or blue
it’s what your father
used to do

every family trip
when nothing else
was right

except those clouds
moving north by northwest
through the night

he showed you
what pilots knew:
factors for safe flying

are visibility
and how low
and mean the clouds are.

“There Will Be Things You Do” by Kim Dower from Last Train to the Missing Planet. © Red Hen Press, 2016. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

Saint Patrick died on this date in around 460 A.D. Though he’s associated with Ireland, he was born in Roman Britain. His father, Calpurnius, was a deacon, but he probably took the post for political reasons. The family was not particularly religious, nor were they very keen on educating their children. Young Patrick — whose name at that time was Maewyn Succat — was kidnapped by Irish pirates when he was about 16; they took him back to Ireland and sold him into slavery to a Druid high priest. The priest put him to work as a shepherd, so he spent a lot of the next six years outdoors and alone, praying. He later saw it as a test of his faith. One night, he had a dream that a voice spoke to him and told him it was time to leave Ireland, so he escaped.

But once he got back to Britain, he had another dream or vision that showed him his mission: return to Ireland and convert the pagans to Christianity. He pursued a religious education in France, which took several years. There were already Christians in Ireland by this time, so he was sent by the Church to minister to them. He already understood Irish language and culture, and wisely chose to incorporate traditional Irish practices into Christian observances, rather than outlawing them. He was very careful to deal fairly with all of the Irish people, Christian and non-Christian alike. By the time he died, he had established schools, monasteries, and churches all over Ireland. Patrick wrote two books, both relatively short. One is his spiritual autobiography, the Confessio. The other is his Letter to Coroticus, which condemned the British mistreatment of Irish Christians.

Over the centuries, many legends have grown up around Saint Patrick. One of the most famous is that he drove the snakes out of Ireland; the snakes in the legend are probably a metaphor for the Druids. Another well-known story is that he explained the Holy Trinity — three persons in one God — to Irish pagans using the three lobes of the shamrock leaf. And he’s credited with the design of the Celtic cross: the ring around the cross is said to be Patrick’s attempt to incorporate the Irish sun god into the Christian symbol.

Saint Patrick’s Day has been a religious celebration in Ireland for more than a thousand years. People were given the day off work, so that they could attend church in the morning and then celebrate with a family meal of Irish bacon and cabbage. Even though it falls in the middle of the Christian season of Lent, during which meat is prohibited, the church relaxed this rule for the celebration of Saint Patrick’s feast day. The pubs were closed for the day. Compared to what we’ve become used to in America, it was a fairly somber holiday. Here, it’s become a holiday of boisterous excess, and a celebration of Irish culture by people of all ethnic backgrounds — especially in recent decades, when many holidays have become more commercialized. American celebrants feast on corned beef and cabbage, toss back record amounts of Guinness stout and Jameson whiskey, and drape themselves in green and orange, the colors of the Irish flag. Green in particular has become the traditional St. Patrick’s Day color, even though blue is the color most commonly associated with the saint himself: bars and pubs all over America serve green-tinted beer, and Chicago even dyes its river green for the day.

It’s also become a holiday known for its parades, which first cropped up in American cities that had a large population of Irish immigrants. Irish Americans in Boston organized the first Saint Patrick’s Day parade in 1737, in part to call attention to the mistreatment of Irish immigrant workers. New York City threw its first Saint Patrick’s Day parade a few years later, and it is now the largest in the world. In recent years, Ireland has made an attempt to match America’s exuberance. Dublin’s officials realized it might be a good way to boost tourism, so they held their first Saint Patrick’s Day parade in 1995. Since then, the parade has grown into a full-fledged, five-day festival that attracts people from all over the world.

It’s the birthday of novelist and children’s author Penelope Lively (books by this author), born in Cairo, Egypt (1933). She’s the author of the novels The Road to Lichfield (1977), Treasures of Time (1979), and According to Mark (1984), among many others.

She grew up with her parents in a suburb of Cairo, and visited the pyramids every week. She studied history at Oxford and was planning to become a social historian. But when she got married and had kids, she found she enjoyed reading to her children so much that she wanted to write children’s books herself. Her book The Ghost of Thomas Kempe (1973) won the Carnegie Medal, Britain’s highest award for children’s literature. A few years later, she started publishing fiction for adults, and her novel Moon Tiger (1987) won the Booker Prize.

In Moon Tiger, she wrote: “We open our mouths and out flow words whose ancestries we do not even know. We are walking lexicons. In a single sentence of idle chatter we preserve Latin, Anglo-Saxon, Norse: we carry a museum inside our heads, each day we commemorate peoples of whom we have never heard.”

The National Gallery of Art opened in Washington, D.C., on this date in 1941. Financier and collector Andrew W. Mellon had donated the funds for the construction of the museum’s main building. Mellon had been building his personal collection since World War I, and in the 1920s, he began quietly accumulating art for the benefit of the country. Just before his death in 1937, he formally bequeathed his entire collection — hundreds of paintings by European artists such as Botticelli, Corot, Perugino, Raphael, Rembrandt, Turner, and Van Dyck — to the United States.

The gallery is located on the National Mall, on Constitution Avenue NW. It’s 780 feet long, containing over half a million square feet; at the time of its completion, it was the largest marble structure in the world.

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