Dec. 14, 2000

A Multitude of Birds

by Ron McFarland

Broadcast date: THURSDAY, 14 December 2000

Poem: ďA Multitude of Birds,Ē by Ron McFarland, from Composting at Forty (Confluence Press).

A Multitude of Birds

Sing now the desperate dance of small birds.
Sing where the quail collect after snowfall,
the mud-gutted borders of roads where the last
hard grains of wheat lay heaped with the gravel.

Sing the wren's last colorless song,
the solitary vireo's slow cold slur
by the roadside sifting old brown bags
for crusts or breadcrumbs, or perhaps

among the shards of bright green glass
a sip of wine, a claret deep as blood.
Sing then the cunning of sparrows which look
like nothing but dark little rocks,

for they will endure, and the starling
whose song is the echo of anything,
and the waxwing, gregarious feeders.
Sing warblers and blackbirds perched on the edge

of winter with ice clinging fast
to their wings, with plentiful seed
lying deep, with songs frozen hard into words,
sing now the desperate dance of small birds.

It is the birthday of short story writer Amy Hempel, born in Chicago, Illinois (1951). Her mother committed suicide when Hempel was 18, and shortly after that, she suffered two serious accidents herself. She became morbid, and afraid of injuries and dying. In an effort to overcome her fears, she took an anatomy class where she dissected cadavers. Her first collection of short stories was Reasons to Live (1985).

It is the birthday of American novelist and short story writer Shirley Jackson, born in San Francisco (1916). Her books include Life Among the Savages (1953), Raising Demons (1957), The Haunting of Hill House (1959), and We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962). Sheís probably best known for her short story The Lottery (1948), which was first published in the New Yorker, and elicited more mail than anything the magazine had ever published.

On this day in 1911, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen became the first man to reach the South Pole, a month ahead of his rival, the English explorer Robert Scott. Amundsen had three advantages over Scott: his base camp was about 60 miles closer to the Pole than Scott's; he'd made a preliminary trip to deposit food along the first part of the route; and he used sled dogs, while Scott used ponies. Scott and his men made it to the pole about a month later, but perished on the way back.

It is the birthday of astronomer Tycho Brahe, in Skane, Denmark (1546). He became interested in astronomy when he saw a total eclipse of the sun on August 21, 1560, as had been predicted. He divided his time between learning law in the daytime, and studying the stars at night. He dedicated his life to the creation of accurate almanac tables, and he recorded observations for years, all without the aid of a telescope.

It is the birthday of French doctor and astrologer Michael Nostradamus, in Saint Remy, France (1503). Heís famous for his uncanny prophecies in rhymed quatrains, published in a book called Centuries (1555). Itís claimed he predicted the Great Fire of London in 1666, the French Revolution, the rise of emperor Napoleon, World Wars One and Two, the Russian Revolution, and Adolf Hitlerís rise to power. He even accurately predicted the date and manner of his own death.

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




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