Monday Oct. 3, 2016

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Just One God

And so many of us.
How can we expect Him
to keep track of which voice
goes with what request.
Words work their way skyward.
Oh Lord, followed by petition —
for a cure, the safe landing.
For what is lost, missing —
a spouse, a job, the final game.
Complaint cloaked as need —
the faster car, porcelain teeth.
That so many entreaties
go unanswered
may say less about our lamentable
inability to be heard
than our inherent flawed condition.

Why else, at birth, the first sound
we make, that full-throttled cry?
Of want, want, want.
Of never enough. Desire
as embedded in us as the ancestral tug
in my unconscienced dog who takes
to the woods, nose to the ground, pulled far
from domesticated hearth, bowl of kibble.
Left behind, I go about my superior business,
my daily ritual I could call prayer.

But look, this morning, in my kitchen,
I’m not asking for more of anything.
My husband slices bread,
hums a tune from our past.
Eggs spatter in a skillet.
Wands of lilac I stuck in a glass
by the open window wobble
in a radiant and — dare I say it?—
merciful light.

“Just One God” by Deborah Cummins from Counting the Waves. © Word Tech Communications, 2006. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

It's the anniversary of the 1895 publication of Stephen Crane's novel The Red Badge of Courage (books by this author), the story of Civil War private Henry Fleming. The story begins late at night around a campfire: "The youth was in a little trance of astonishment. So tomorrow they were at last going to fight. There would be a battle, and he would be in it. For a time he was obliged to labor to make himself believe. He could not accept with assurance an omen that he was about to mingle in one of those great affairs of the earth. He had dreamed of battles all his life."

Today is the birthday of manners maven Emily Post (books by this author), born Emily Price in Baltimore, Maryland (1873). She started writing to support herself and her two sons; her marriage had broken up in 1905 when her husband lost his fortune in a stock panic and it came out that he had been having affairs with a series of showgirls. Post wrote articles about architecture and interior design, and published several novels. One day, an editor suggested that she write an etiquette manual, because her novels were full of observations about etiquette. She thought etiquette manuals were awful, so she set out to write one that was more about treating people decently rather than just following rules. The result was her book Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics and at Home(1922), and she wrote about etiquette for the rest of her life.

Emily Post, who said, "Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use."

Today is the birthday of the cartoonist Harvey Kurtzman (books by this author), born in Brooklyn, New York (1924). In 1952, Kurtzman became the founding editor of Mad magazine, and even though he remained with the magazine for only its first few issues, he set the tone and style that became its trademark. It was the first media product that earned its bread and butter by parodying other media products.

It's the birthday of the man who said, "Fifty percent of people won't vote, and fifty percent don't read newspapers. I hope it's the same fifty percent." That's Gore Vidal (books by this author), born Eugene Luther Gore Vidal Jr. at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, where his father was an instructor (1925).

He's well known for his works of historical fiction — such as Julian (1964), Burr (1973), and Lincoln (1984). And his 1968 novel Myra Breckenridge, a satire about a transsexual, was an international best-seller. The New York Times called it "witty"; the reviewer also called it "repulsive" and "a funny novel, but it requires an iron stomach." Vidal carried a grudge against the Times for the rest of his life.

In the mid-1950s he branched out even further, writing a series of potboiler mysteries under the pen name "Edgar Box." He also produced 20 dramas and literary adaptations for television. He adapted one of his original teleplays, Visit to a Small Planet (1955), for the stage, and it became a hit on Broadway; he also wrote several original and adapted screenplays in Hollywood. Near the end of his life, he announced that he'd given up the long-form novel, preferring to focus on nonfiction. He wrote two memoirs (Palimpsest in 1995 and Point to Point Navigation in 2006), and several book-length essays on American history and politics.

It's the birthday of Thomas Wolfe (books by this author), born in Asheville, North Carolina (1900). He originally wanted to be a playwright, and he wrote and acted in several plays at the University of North Carolina and, later, at Harvard. He moved to New York in 1923 and taught playwriting at New York University's Washington Square College; it was on a trip abroad in 1926 that he first turned to fiction and began what would become his most famous novel, Look Homeward, Angel (1929). The book, like his later work, was a thinly veiled autobiography, and his depictions of people and places caused a fair amount of turmoil in his family and among the citizens of Asheville.

Thomas Wolfe wrote, "All things on earth point home in old October; sailors to sea, travellers to walls and fences, hunters to field and hollow and the long voice of the hounds, the lover to the love he has forsaken."

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