Jul. 8, 2001


by Pamela Stewart

Sunday, 8 July 2001
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Poem: "Familiars," by Pamela Stewart from The Red Window (University of Georgia Press).


Sniffing juice and drip from the still
warm barbeque, a gray cat splays
his six-toed paws, glares in
where a family sits eating. The woman rises,
opens the door onto its wild face.
Its eyes daze to panic.
He leaps away, slashes the air
then slams each corner of the fenced yard to escape.
It's June. Strawberries splatter
in their huge steel pot.
The hot blue flames suck and drift.
The softer family cat slips upstairs
where two small children curl against summery dreams.
Beyond, night thickens in the forest
and those who hunger edge closer.

It's the birthday of the novelist and syndicated columnist Anna Quindlen, born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1953. She went Barnard College, wrote for the New York Post, and then moved to the New York Times, where she stayed for 17 years. In 1985, she took time off to be with her children and to write a novel, then returned to write her Life in the 30s column, which was picked up in syndication by 60 newspapers across the country. After another leave of absence when her daughter was born, she began her Public and Private column, which won her the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1992. She finally left the Times for good in 1994, and began to concentrate on writing novels, which include Object Lessons, One True Thing, and Black and Blue.

It's the birthday of singer and songwriter Raffi Cavoukian, better known to millions of children and parents simply as Raffi, born in Cairo, Egypt, in 1948. His family moved to Canada when he was ten, and a few years later he started to play the guitar. In the late 1960s, he began performing as a folk singer, but didn't have much success until he was put in front of an audience of nursery school children. Using his own money, he put out the record Singable Songs for the Very Young in 1976. The record was a hit, and Raffi was on his way to becoming a superstar for the preschool set. His albums include Baby Beluga, One Light, One Sun, and Everything Grows.

It's the birthday of the physician and author Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, born in Zurich, Switzerland in 1926. As a teenager, she hitchhiked through Europe, and visited recently-liberated concentration camps. The experience shaped her entire career. She became a doctor and moved to America, where she was appalled by the sterile and isolated ways in which people died. She began to interview terminally ill patients, and came up with her famous stages of dying: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. She published the results of her research in her most famous book, On Death and Dying, in 1969.

It's the birthday of the jazz singer and bandleader Billy Eckstein, born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1914. He gave many musicians their start, including Sarah Vaughn, Dizzy Gillespie, and Charlie Parker.

On this date in 1822, the English Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley drowned in a boating accident off the coast of Livorno, Italy. He was sailing in his boat, the Don Juan, when a sudden squall came up and swamped the boat. His body washed ashore several days later, and was buried in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome, near the grave of John Keats. When he heard the news of Shelley's death, Lord Byron wrote: "Shelley was, without exception, the best and least selfish man I ever knew."

It's the birthday of the French poet Jean de la Fontaine, born in Château-Thierry in 1621. He was able to line up a number of wealthy patrons who gave him the freedom to pursue a career as a writer. His greatest work was his Fables, 240 poems in free verse which came out in twelve books between 1668 and 1693. The Fables include familiar tales like "The Tortoise and the Hare" and "The Crow and the Fox."

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