More Than Halfway
By Edward Hirsch
I've turned on lights all over the house,
but nothing can save me from this darkness.
I've stepped onto the front porch to see
the stars perforating the milky black clouds
and the moon staring coldly through the trees,
but this negative I'm carrying inside me.
Where is the boy who memorized constellations?
Where is the textbook that so consoled him?
I'm now more than halfway to the grave,
but I'm not half the man I meant to become.
To what fractured deity can I pray?
I'm willing to pay the night with interest,
though the night wants nothing but itself.
What did I mean to say to darkness?
Death is a zero hollowed out of my chest.
God is an absence whispering in the leaves.
"Edward Hirsch (who once squired this column into print) portrays a father who sold containers while himself containing mysteries," writes Mary Karr in Poet's Choice in Sunday's Washington Post Book World. "His 'Special Orders' conjures the man at work: 'sawdust clinging to his shoes./Give me back his tape measure and his keys/his drafting pencil.../his daydreams on lined paper.../I don't understand this uncontrollable grief./Whatever you had that never fit,whatever else you needed, believe me,/my father, who wanted your business,/would squat down at your side/and sketch you a container for it." Special Orders is the title poem from Hirsch's newest collection, published this year by Knopf.
We spent Father's Day in Gettysburg and Hanover, Pennsylvania with Paul's parents, who were out of town for most of the last month (and we'll be out of town for most of the next month, so there weren't many days this summer when we could get together). My parents are still in New York visiting my uncle, who is still in the hospital though it sounds like he is improving a bit. We went to the new visitor center and museum at Gettysburg National Military Park, which has a lot more interactive exhibits and several terrific short films following the course of the Civil War in general and the Battle of Gettysburg in particular...no more walls and walls of representative swords and cannons, but lots of new displays on the best-known generals and officers as well as recreations of camps, mounted cavalry, the homes in the line of fire, and a medical tent.
Confederate and Union uniforms at the museum's entrance in the visitor center.
Shells from Fort Sumter, April 1861. Thousands of these were fired before the fort surrendered.
A 34-star US flag from 1861 including the 11 Confederate states, since the Union did not accept their secession.
The Stars & Bars -- the first national flag of the Confederacy. Its design was changed in 1863 to avoid confusion with the US flag to the more familiar Dixie flag.
Visitors watch one of the new films tracing the history of the Civil War, its causes and effects.
And here's a glimpse of the new visitor center. The Gettysburg Cyclorama will be housed in an eight-sided barn behind it.
We ate lunch in the new visitor center cafe, which has terrific peanut soup with hardtack for anyone who might be visiting (I'm told their chicken salad isn't bad either but I wanted the period food). After some hiking and climbing around Devil's Den on the battlefield and a visit to Boyds Bear Country, which has reopened with a lot more non-Boyds collectibles, we had barbecued chicken with my in-laws, then drove home. We missed the first hour of the Tony Awards, though I suspect I didn't miss much I'd have cared about because I got to see Glenn Close, Mandy Patinkin, Lily Tomlin (who couldn't read her cue cards to save her life), Kristin Chenoweth and Daniel Radcliffe...and we got to see Patti LuPone! Who won Best Actress in a Musical YAYAYAYAY for the revival of Gypsy! I didn't watch the Tonys the year she won for Evita, something I have regretted since I was fourteen, so her win this year made me very, very happy.
Otherwise, the Broadway situation looks embarrassingly bad from here. Now, admittedly I have not schlepped myself up to New York and paid to see a new musical since the aforementioned Glenn Close starred in Sunset Boulevard; there's been no performer I wanted to see badly enough and no show I wanted to see on Broadway so much that I was willing to pay the kind of money it costs these days, not when there are terrific community theater performances and several excellent repertory companies here and some of the high school singers impress me as much as some of the people they had at the Tonys (where DID they find that girl who's in Xanadu, and the pretty vacant Little Mermaid...I can recommend them some teenage performers from my son's high school who are both better singers and more charismatic). The Grease revival looks just as embarrassingly lame as my kids accused. The woman in the Sunday in the Park With George revival is no Bernadette Peters.
And that said, those revivals still looked better than any of the new musicals! Xanadu -- a bad movie that I adore -- appears to be too dreadful for words! And what does it say if Best Actor in a Musical goes to the guy in South Pacific rather than the guy in this year's best musical? Nothing that makes me want to run out and see the new one, I can tell you. I think it was a mistake to do that Rent tribute with the original cast...oh, it was lovely, but wow did it give me a "they don't make 'em like they used to" moment. For that matter, Whoopi Goldberg flying in as Mary Poppins gave me a "they don't make 'em like they used to" moment!
In better news, I love that women direct plays on Broadway and that one of them won a Tony for it, though I must note as well that far more women direct plays in community and regional theater and don't even get that much glory (and the ticket prices are much, much less). I'm sorry Patrick Stewart didn't win but I must admit that I was equally pleased that the guy in Les Liaisons Dangereuses didn't either...sorry, but if Alan Rickman didn't get a Tony Award for that role -- and I'm not denying that James Earl Jones was brilliant in Fences -- then no one else should get one either. I thought Dan Radcliffe was going to die when Richard Griffiths said he had opened the envelope as if by magic, then blamed the lame joke on the lateness of the hour. Dan looked either like he was very nervous or like he just plain thought he should be somewhere else.
But when Mandy Patinkin walked out to "Don't Cry For Me, Argentina," I got little chills (the guy playing Seurat in Sunday in the Park can't compare to him any more than the woman can compare to Peters but I was happy to hear that music too). And when Patti won I woke the cats! So I am very happy I got home for the end of the awards, even though I am somewhat ambivalent about all things Broadway theater at the moment...give me a good local production of All's Well That Ends Well and I'm perfectly content without going to New York. Not to mention the fact that the last three major musicals I saw were in the West End, anyway. *g*