Late afternoons, we’d tuck up our hems
under Minisa Bridge, scrape our white knees
on scrub brush and drowned trees to slide
down the dirt bank past milk-weed
gone to seed, cattails and trash to sit on stones
at the edge of the river and giggle and smoke,
waiting to wolf-whistle North High’s rowing team.
In the shadows where the milk-chocolate river
unfolded, ooze between our toes, we’d strip,
risk long-legged insects, leeches and mothers
for the silt slick on our thighs, the air thick
with the smell of honeysuckle, mud—the rest
of the day somewhere downstream. We didn’t
know why, but none of us wanted
to go home to polite kitchens and mothers
patiently waiting for what happened next,
the way women have always waited for hunter husbands,
kept vigils and prayed at the entrance of mines.
“River” by Ginger Murchison from A Scrap of Linen, A Bone. © Press 53, 2016. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
It’s the birthday of Ambrose Bierce (books by this author), born near Horse Cave Creek, Ohio (1842). He wrote essays, journalism, and satire, and he’s well known for his short stories, especially “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” (1890) and The Devil’s Dictionary (1906), a satirical reference book. He volunteered for the Union Army when the Civil War broke out, and he was only the second person in his county to do so. He fought in some of the bloodiest battles, and later he wrote stories about the war: bleak, bitter stories with senseless deaths and no heroes.
It was on this day in 1374 in Aachen, Germany that an outbreak of dancing plague or dancing mania, also known as St. Vitus’ Dance, first began. From Aachen it spread across central Europe and as far away as England and Madagascar. Dancing mania affected groups of people — as many as thousands at a time — and caused them to dance uncontrollably for days, weeks, and even months until they collapsed from exhaustion. Some danced themselves to death, suffering heart attacks or broken hips and ribs. At the time, people believed the plague was the result of a curse from St. Vitus. Scientists now tend to believe it was due to ergot poisoning or mass hysteria.
He taught at various colleges, including Kansas State and Harvard, before giving up teaching for writing full time. Ciardi’s popularity grew after the publication of his 1959 textbook, How Does a Poem Mean? — still widely used in high schools and colleges across America. He completed his last collection of poetry, The Birds of Pompeii, shortly before his death in 1986.
It’s the birthday of novelist Anita Desai (books by this author), born in Mussoorie, India (1937). Her mother was German and her father was Bengali. She grew up speaking German at home, Hindi with her friends, learned Bengali from her father, and listened to Urdu poetry recited in the street. But she first learned to read and write in school, and in English. She said: “I think it had a tremendous effect that the first thing you saw written and the first thing you ever read was English. It seemed to me the language of books. I just went on writing it because I always wanted to belong to this world of books.”
Desai has published 12 novels, including Clear Light of Day (1980), In Custody (1984), and Fasting, Feasting (1999).
It’s the birthday of poet Stephen Dunn (books by this author), born in Forest Hills, New York (1939). He published more than 10 books of poetry before his collection Different Hours won the Pulitzer Prize in 2001.
Dunn’s first love was basketball. He was a star on the 1962 Hofstra basketball team that went 25 and one on the year. They called him “Radar,” for his accurate jump shot. After college, he played professional basketball for the Williamsport, Pennsylvania, Billies for a couple of years before giving up the sport.
Dunn found a job as a brochure writer for Nabisco, and for the next seven years, he rose through the ranks of the corporation. He started to worry though that he would get stuck in a job doing something he didn’t believe in, so he quit and moved to Spain with his wife and he started to write poetry.