Thursday Dec. 3, 2015

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The wall of cold descends

Near the end of our annual solstice party
as guests were rummaging through the pile
for their coats and hugging many goodbyes
the very first snow of the year began
to eddy down in big flat flakes.

It was cold enough to stick, with the grass
poking through and then buried.
Now the ground gives it back
under the low ruddy sun that sits
on the boughs of the pine like a fox

if red foxes could climb. The cats
crowd the windows for its touch.
The Wolf Moon seemed bigger than
the sun, almost brighter as last night
it turned the snow ghostly.

Now it too wanes. The nub end
of the year when all northern
cultures celebrate fire and light.
Tonight we’ll take the first two candles
to kindle one from the other.

When we go out after dark, our
eyes seek lights that bore holes
in the thick black like the pelt
of a huge hairy monster, a grizzly
who devours the warm-blooded.

We are kin with the birds who huddle
in evergreens, who crowd feeders,
kin with the foxes and their prey, kin
with all who shiver this night, homeless
or housed, clutching or alone

under the vast high dome of night.

"The wall of cold descends” by Marge Piercy from Made in Detroit. © Knopf, 2015. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

The Lerner and Loewe musical Camelot opened on Broadway on this date in 1960. It was an adaptation of The Once and Future King, T.H. White's retelling of the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table (1958). The original cast recording — featuring Richard Burton, Julie Andrews, and Robert Goulet — was a favorite of President Kennedy and his family. Not long after her husband's assassination, Jacqueline Kennedy gave an interview to T.H. White. She told him how her husband would often ask her to play the album at bedtime, to take his mind off his crippling back pain. Kennedy was particularly moved by the final number, in which Arthur knights a young boy on the eve of a great battle, and implores him to keep the legend of Camelot alive. "The song he loved most came at the very end of this record, the last side of Camelot, sad Camelot ...'Don't let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot.' [...] There'll never be another Camelot again."

It’s the birthday of Joseph Conrad (books by this author), born in Berdichev, Poland (now Ukraine) (1857). His parents had both died of tuberculosis by the time he was 12, so he went to live with his uncle in Switzerland and later joined the merchant navy, sailing all around the world and gathering experiences that he would later use in his novels and stories. The best known of these is Heart of Darkness (1899). It's the story of an English riverboat captain in the Congo who is sent to retrieve an ivory trader, Kurtz, who has been living as a demigod among the African natives. The novella has been adapted several times, beginning with Orson Welles' radio production in 1938. The most famous adaptation moved the novella's action from Africa to southeast Asia and set the story during the Vietnam War: Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 film, Apocalypse Now.

It was on this date in 1919 that the Quebec Bridge, spanning the St. Lawrence River, finally opened to traffic. It was a long time coming; the project had been discussed since 1852, and design and construction finally got underway in 1903. Plans were drawn up for the world's largest cantilever bridge, with an 1,800-foot single span that was 150 feet above the river to accommodate oceangoing ships. It was designed to carry two railway tracks and two streetcar tracks, as well as two automobile roadways. Builders broke ground on the bridge in 1904, but there was an error in the estimated weight of the finished bridge: it was off by more than 8 million pounds. Engineers proceeded anyway, unwilling to stop construction on the greatest bridge in the world.

But in 1907, when it was almost complete, the bridge collapsed, taking the lives of 75 workers. Construction resumed in 1913, and in 1916 the bridge collapsed again, this time killing 13. It finally opened to public traffic on this date in 1919, and remains the world's longest cantilever bridge.

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