Sep. 29, 2001


by Lisel Mueller

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Poem: “Pigeons,” by Lisel Mueller from Alive Together (Louisiana State University Press).


Like every kingdom,
the kingdom of birds
has its multitude of the poor,
the urban, public poor
whose droppings whiten
shingles and sidewalks,

who pick and pick
(but rarely choose)
whatever meets their beaks:
the daily litter
in priceless Italian cities,
and here, around City Hall—
always underfoot,
offending fastidious people
with places to go.

No one remembers how it happened,
their decline, the near-
abandonment of flight,
the querulous murmurs,
the garbage-filled crops.
Once they were elegant, carefree;
they called to each other in rich, deep voices,
and we called them doves
and welcomed them to our gardens.

It’s the birthday of poet Tom McKeown, born in Evanston, Illinois (1937). He has written Alewife Summer (1967), Drunk All Afternoon (1969), The House of Water (1974), Three Hundred Tigers (1994), and others.

On this day in 1930, 38-year-old news announcer Lowell Thomas delivered his first broadcast, a folksy digest of the day’s news. His show ran for 45 years, the longest continual running show in network broadcasting.

It’s the birthday of the singing cowboy Gene Autry, born on a ranch in Tioga, Texas (1907), the son of a Baptist minister. He made more than 100 films, and he was a WWII Army Air Corps sergeant and a successful businessman.

It’s the birthday of physicist Enrico Fermi, born in Rome (1901). For his research in radioactivity and nuclear fission, he was awarded the 1938 Nobel Prize in physics. He moved to the United States, and four years later he was the first to produce a controlled and self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction.

It’s the birthday of British naval hero Horatio Nelson born at Burnham Thorpe, Norfolk, England (1758), the son of the village rector. He entered the British navy as a midshipman at the age of 12, and by 20 he had risen to the rank of commander. He led an extremely successful career as a naval commander, fighting French and Spanish fleets and finally preventing Napoleon from taking control of the British Isles, fighting valiantly off Cape Trafalgar, Spain. In his final battle, on the ship Victory, he was mortally wounded. He was honored as the savior of his country, he was given a magnificent funeral at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, and a column was erected to his memory in central London’s Trafalgar Square.

It is the birthday of novelist and playwright Miguel Cervantes born in Alcala de Henares, Spain (1547). He was in the Spanish army, fighting the Turks, when he was wounded, losing the use of his left hand for life. Enslaved by Muslims for five years, when he was 28, he was finally freed, and then returned to Spain. He began writing, and in 1585, his first book, La Galatea, was published. But Cervantes had trouble managing his money and spent a year in debtor’s prison in Seville, where he conceived of his story of Don Quixote, Part One, which came out in January, 1605. Part Two came out 10 years later. The characters of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza were popular fictional heroes who were even represented in festive parades in early 17th-century Europe and South America. Many of our current catch-phrases came from his original works, such as: “without a wink of sleep,” “thank you for nothing,” “no limits but the sky,” “to give the devil his due,” “let every man mind his own business,” “thou has seen nothing yet,” “think before thou speakest,” “I’ll turn over a new leaf,” “mum’s the word,” and “my memory is so bad that many times I forget my own name.” He once said, “Can we ever have too much of a good thing?”

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