Jun. 12, 2001

Second Language

by Randy Blasing

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Poem: "Second Language," by Randy Blasing from Graphic Scenes (Persea Books).

Second Language

The smallest green chameleon
gone like a flick
of its tongue returns me

to our beginnings
& brings back the first time
twenty-five years ago you ran

across the English word for it
& asked me what it meant.
When I explained it stood

for change, you wondered
what would become of us,
& I heard myself say

for my part I would go
on loving you, language
I'd never used in all my days.

It's the birthday of Anne Frank, born in Frankfurt, Germany in 1929, the young girl who fled to Holland with her family when Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933. They settled in Amsterdam, but after the Nazis stormed Holland in 1940 and began deporting Dutch Jews to the camps in July of 1942, Anne and her family went into hiding in an annex behind the offices on Prinsengracht Canal where her father had a warehouse. They stayed there for two years, and nearly every day Anne wrote in her little red diary—a diary her parents had given her on her 13th birthday. One of her first entries was: "It's an odd idea for someone like me to keep a diary; not only because I have never done so before, but because it seems to me that neither I—nor for that matter anyone else—will be interested in the unbosomings of a 13-year-old schoolgirl." Her last entry was August 1, 1944; three days later the annex was raided and Anne and her family were sent to the Bergen Belsen camp near Hannover, Germany, where she died at 15 of typhus, just a few weeks before the camp was liberated. The diary was published in Dutch in 1947 as The House Behind, and in 1953 in English as The Diary of a Young Girl.

It's the birthday of the author Richard Scarry, born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1919. Of the more than 250 children's books Scarry wrote, perhaps the best-known are Richard Scarry's Best Word Book Ever, and Richard Scarry's Please and Thank You.

It's the birthday of playwright Bill Naughton, born in Ballyhaunis, Ireland, in 1910. He's the author of Alfie, All in Good Time, and Spring and Port Wine, as well as other plays.

It's the birthday of American poet, playwright, and novelist Djuna Barnes, born in Cornwall-on-Hudson, New York in 1892. She is best known for her novel Nightwood, published in 1936. She lived to be 90 years old and spent the second half of her life as a near-recluse in a one-room Greenwich Village apartment, from which she wrote, "Life is painful, nasty, and short—but in my case it has only been painful and nasty."

It's the birthday of Swiss writer Johanna Spyri, born near Zurich in 1827. She grew up in the Alps, tending her family's goats, and started writing stories as a way to earn money to help soldiers who had been wounded in the Franco-Prussian War. She wrote dozens of children's stories, but is best known for her novel Heidi, about a five-year-old orphan sent to the Alps to live with her grandfather.

It's the birthday of the English writer Harriet Martineau, born in Norwich, England, in 1802. She was very ill in her childhood, and as a young woman she wrote: "Everything but truth becomes loathsome in a sickroom. Let the nurse avow that the medicine will be nauseous. Let the doctor declare that the treatment will be painful. And when the time approaches that I am to die, let me be told that I am to die, and when." But Martineau rose from her sickbed, lived to be 72, wrote several popular novels, and wrote a book about America, Society in America, in 1837.

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