May 6, 2001

Magellan Street, 1974

by Maxine Kumin

SUNDAY, 6 May 2001
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Poem: "Magellan Street, 1974," by Maxine Kumin, from Nurture Poems (Penguin Books).

Magellan Street, 1974

This is the year you fall in
love with the Bengali poet,
and the Armenian bakery stays open
Saturday nights until eleven
across the street from your sunny
apartment with steep fo'c'sle stairs
up to an attic bedroom.
Three-decker tenement flank you.
Cyclone fences enclose
flamingos on diaper-size lawns.

This is the year, in a kitchen
you brighten with pots of basil
and untidy mint, I see how
your life will open, will burst from
the maze in its walled-in garden
and streak towards the horizon.
Your pastel maps lie open
on the counter as we stand here
not quite up to exchanging
our lists of sorrows, our day books,
our night thoughts, and burn the first batch
of chocolate walnut cookies.

Of course you move on,
my circumnavigator.
Tonight as I cruise past your corner,
a light goes on in the window.
Two shapes sit at the table.

It's the birthday of playwright and novelist Ariel Dorfman, born in Buenos Aires, Argentina (1942), best known for his play Death and The Maiden (1991).

It's the birthday of Orson Welles, born in Kenosha, Wisconsin (1915). A child prodigy, he made his stage debut at the Gate Theater in Dublin at the age of 16. Three years later he was acting on Broadway. He was very young when he did the voice of "The Shadow" on radio. He directed a version of H.G. Wells's The War of the Worlds for Radio in 1938, which scared thousands of Americans half to death. A musical he directed, called The Cradle Will Rock, was banned by the authorities; Welles and the cast led an audience of 2,000 up the street to another theater, where the actors evaded the ban by singing from seats in the auditorium. Welles' first film was Citizen Kane (1941), made when he was 25.

It's the birthday of poet and critic Randall Jarrell, born in Nashville, Tennessee (1914). He was a ferocious critic, fierce in his condemnation, and fierce in his praise. His longtime friend Robert Lowell said, "Randall was the only man I have ever met who could make other writers feel that their work was more important to him than his own."

It's the birthday of businessman Allan Odell, born in Minneapolis (1903), who originated the famous Burma Shave jingles. He wrote them all the first three years, then opened it up to the public, including Vladimir Nabokov, who submitted one which read:

He passed two cars Then five
Then seven
And then he beat
Them all to heaven
Burma Shave

It's the birthday of Sigmund Freud, born in Moravia, now the Czech Republic (1856). He was a hardworking clinical neurologist in Vienna, and wrote important books on aphasia and cerebral paralysis in children. Then he wrote his masterpiece, The Interpretation of Dreams (1900). He was the first to recognize the influence of unconscious drives, especially the sexuality of young children, in shaping behavior.

It's the birthday of writer Gaston Leroux, born in Paris, France (1868), best known for his novel The Phantom of the Opera. It got somewhat poor reviews and had mediocre sales when it came out in 1910. But then, with the movie version in 1925, starring Lon Chaney, it became an international success.

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