Feb. 10, 2001


by Bill Holm

SATURDAY, 10 February 2001
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Poem: "Sparrows," by Bill Holm, from The Dead Get By With Everything (Milkweed).


Morning after first snow—
outside my kitchen window,
gray sparrows flap up
and down on a sagging clothesline.
It is a corn dance
in honor of sunshine on snow.

What joy in a sparrow's body
as he jumps and eats—
a world of red barns,
snow, old clotheslines
and corn kernels is enough.
No brooding on hunger and death,
no suspicion among the sparrows.

I return from seeing a woman,
full of joy and dancing in my body—
lie awake all night
putting away old dreams like a man
packing for a long trip.

Now it is clear: her face
come to me, and I sink
into sleep like childhood,
rising hours later to bright sun,
sparrows dancing on the clothesline.

In a world of grief, no one
has any right to such gifts
as I am given; I take them,
put on my feathers, and go
dance in the snow.

It's the birthday of children's author, E. L. Konigsburg, born Elaine Lobl, in New York City (1930), the first author to have two titles on the list for the Newbery Medal. She won her first for From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (1967), about two children who run away from home and hide out in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She won it again in 1997 for The View From Saturday.

It's the birthday of playwright and poet Bertolt Brecht, born in Augsburg, Germany (1898). He started out writing expressionist plays—Drums in the Night, Baal, and Man is Man (1926). He wanted to combine drama and music, and he collaborated with composer Kurt Weill on the production that established his reputation: The Threepenny Opera (1928). When Hitler came to power in 1933, Brecht sought asylum in Denmark, Sweden, and Finland, finally settling in Hollywood in 1941. It was during this period that he wrote most of his great plays: Mother Courage (1941), The Good Woman of Setzuan (1943), The Caucasian Chalk Circle (1948), and The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui (1958). He was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee, and shortly thereafter accepted the East German government's offer of a theater there. He formed his own company, The Berliner Ensemble, that produced all of his later work, and he stayed there until he died, in 1956.

It's the birthday of poet and novelist Boris Pasternak, born near Moscow (1890). His father was a painter, his mother was a concert pianist, and Boris studied composition for six years under Scriabin. His first volume of poetry was published when he was 23, and with the publication of Over the Barriers (1917), and My Sister—Life (1922), he was recognized as a major new lyrical voice. His poetry was considered avant-garde by Russian standards, and he had to support himself with his translations of Shakespeare, Rilke, and English Romantic poets. His first novel, Doctor Zhivago, was rejected by a leading Moscow monthly in 1956. But it was smuggled to Italy where it was published, and an English version came out in 1958. He was awarded the Nobel Prize, which brought him a torrent of abuse within the Soviet Union: Pasternak was ejected from the Union of Soviet Writers, and threatened with deportation. He begged Premier Nikita Khruschev to let him stay, saying, "Leaving my country is equivalent to death for me," and he turned down the prize. He died two years later, in 1960.

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