Friday, April 08, 2011

`Pronounce It Good to Have Been Born'

Yet another of my wife’s former newspaper colleagues served as our guide to Galveston, starting with the small engraved plaque in his living room marking the level water reached in his house on Sept. 13, 2008, the day Hurricane Ike made landfall. Our friend’s house stands about five-hundred yards, as the crow flies, from the Gulf of Mexico, and thirty-nine inches of water filled his house. He and his wife, a nurse, lost their house, most of its contents and three automobiles to Ike, a storm that claimed at least one hundred twelve lives in the United States. They rebuilt everything from the foundation.

“We were fortunate,” he said. He’s a storyteller who looks like Randall Jarrell’s huskier brother, and has an old-fashioned reporter’s gift for retaining a lot of facts and mustering them economically. Some streets in Galveston are devoid of trees, and he explained that salt water after Ike killed 25,000 live oaks in the city. He showed us the oldest Baptist church in Texas and a building where an old sign has been preserved above the door: “Colored Branch of the Rosenberg Library.” He showed us Rosemont Cemetery, a grass-covered lot behind a motel and the final resting place for more than four-hundred blacks. The historic marker went up three weeks ago. Our friend and his son, an Eagle Scout, built a rail fence around the graveyard and built it again after Ike.

Our friend embodies two virtues I respect, probably above all others: He’s grateful for everything and seems never to indulge in self-pity. In Anterooms (2010), Richard Wilbur includes “Galveston, 1961,” but it’s another poem that seems pertinent to our visit to Galveston, “Psalm":

“Give thanks for all things
On the plucked lute, and likewise
The harp of ten strings.
“Have the lifted horn
Greatly blare, and pronounce it
Good to have been born.
“Lend the breath of life
To the stops of the sweet flute
Or capering fife,
“And tell the deep drum
To make, at the right juncture,
“Then, in grave relief,
Praise too our sorrows on the
Cello of shared grief.”

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