Thursday May 28, 2015

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Postcards

At first I sent you a postcard
From every city I went to.
Grüsse aus Bath, aus Birmingham,
Aus Rotterdam, aus Tel Aviv.
Mit Liebe.
Cards from you arrived
In English, with many commas.
Hope, you’re fine and still alive,
Says one from Hong Kong. By that time
We weren’t writing quite as often.

Now we’re nearly nine years away
From the lake and the blue mountains,
And the room with the balcony,
But the heat and light of those days
Can reach this far from time to time.
Your latest was from Senegal,
Mine from Helsinki. I don’t know
If we’ll meet again. Be happy.
If you hear this, send a postcard.

“Postcards” by Wendy Cope from If I Don’t Know. © Faber and Faber, 2001. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

On this day in 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt officially opened the Golden Gate Bridge. The celebration had begun on May 27, when foot traffic and roller skaters were first allowed to cross the bridge. The next day, Roosevelt pushed a button in Washington, D.C., that signaled the bridge's opening to vehicle traffic. The parties and celebrations lasted a week.

The overall design of the bridge was proposed by engineer and erstwhile poet Joseph Strauss, although he had little experience with suspension bridges and required the help of a team of experts to carry out the design. Charles Alton Ellis was the senior engineer, and did most of the work, but received none of the credit.

Residential architect Irving Morrow contributed the aesthetics: the design of the towers, the lighting scheme, and various Art Deco touches. The bridge's distinctive reddish-orange hue is known as "International Orange," and though the original paint job was meant to be temporary — the color of the red lead sealant laid down as a first coat — it proved so popular that it has stayed that color ever since.

Joseph Strauss wrote a poem commemorating the bridge's opening:

The Mighty Task is Done

At last the mighty task is done;
Resplendent in the western sun
The Bridge looms mountain high;
Its titan piers grip ocean floor,
Its great steel arms link shore with shore,
Its towers pierce the sky.

On its broad decks in rightful pride,
The world in swift parade shall ride,
Throughout all time to be;
Beneath, fleet ships from every port,
Vast landlocked bay, historic fort,
And dwarfing all — the sea.

To north, the Redwood Empire's gates;
To south, a happy playground waits,
in Rapturous appeal;
Here nature, free since time began,
Yields to the restless moods of man,
Accepts his bonds of steel.

Launched midst a thousand hopes and fears,
Damned by a thousand hostile sneers,
Yet ne'er its course was stayed,
But ask of those who met the foe
Who stood alone when faith was low,
Ask them the price they paid.

Ask of the steel, each strut and wire,
Ask of the searching, purging fire,
That marked their natal hour;
Ask of the mind, the hand, the heart,
Ask of each single, stalwart part,
What gave it force and power.

An Honored cause and nobly fought
And that which they so bravely wrought,
Now glorifies their deed,
No selfish urge shall stain its life,
Nor envy, greed, intrigue, nor strife,
Nor false, ignoble creed.

High overhead its lights shall gleam,
Far, far below life's restless stream,
Unceasingly shall flow;
For this was spun its lithe fine form,
To fear not war, nor time, nor storm,
For Fate had meant it so.

On this day in 1830, President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act into law. It was the first legislation to diverge from the previous official U.S. policy to respect Native Americans' legal and political rights. Jackson announced his policy by saying, "It gives me pleasure to announce to Congress that the benevolent policy of the Government, steadily pursued for nearly thirty years, in relation to the removal of the Indians beyond the white settlements is approaching to a happy consummation." He also said, "Toward the aborigines of the country no one can indulge a more friendly feeling than myself, or would go further in attempting to reclaim them from their wandering habits and make them a happy, prosperous people."

The policy primarily affected five tribes: the Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Chickasaw, and Seminole nations of the southeastern United States. In 1823, the Supreme Court ruled that the white settlers' "right of discovery" superseded the Indians' "right of occupancy." The five nations resisted nonviolently at first, and tried to assimilate into Anglo-American practices of education, large-scale farming, and slave-holding, but to no avail, and about 100,000 Indians were forcibly marched thousands of miles — sometimes in manacles — to lands west of the Mississippi, most of which were deemed undesirable by white settlers. As many as 25 percent died en route.

The Cherokee nation battled the Removal Act in courts of law, and the Seminoles of Florida battled it literally; Chief Osceola said: "You have guns, and so have we. You have powder and lead, and so have we. You have men, and so have we. Your men will fight and so will ours, till the last drop of the Seminole's blood has moistened the dust of his hunting ground."

It's the birthday of poet May Swenson (books by this author), born in Logan, Utah (1913). Her parents were Swedish immigrants who came to the United States as converts to Mormonism. She was the first of ten children, and she became the black sheep of the family when she started questioning the Mormon faith at the age of thirteen.

She began keeping a diary and composing poems, later saying that writing was the one place she felt free to express herself: "I'm two eyes looking out of a suit of armor. I write because I can't talk."

She moved to New York City in her 20s and had a string of low-paying jobs. At one low point, she shoplifted a dress so she'd look respectable when she went to seek help in the welfare office. Humiliated, she wrote her father: "If I ever find a way, acceptable to myself, to solve the bread-and-butter question, I will be a writer." And although she did not later wish her writing to be categorized by her sexuality, it's likely that she saw New York as her only chance to live her life as a lesbian.

Swenson's reputation and success grew slowly; by the time her first book, Another Animal, was accepted for publication in 1954, she was 41 and had been in New York for nearly 20 years. With the help of her editor, Swenson won a two-month residency at Yaddo, where she met the poet Elizabeth Bishop. The two became friends, possibly lovers, and although Bishop lived in Brazil, they exchanged 260 letters over the next 29 years. She once wrote to Bishop: "Not to need illusion—to dare to see and say how things really are, is the emancipation I would like to attain."

Her collections include Dear Elizabeth: Five Poems and Three Letters to Elizabeth Bishop (2000), and The Complete Love Poems of May Swenson (2003).

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

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