Oct. 8, 2001


by Anne Higgins

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Poem: "Open-Hearted," by Anne Higgins from At the Year's Elbow (Edwin Mellen Press).


A nest of tubes,
a cradle of monitors,
someone in there
whose breastbone has been pulled open
like French Doors,
and whose heart, almost broken,
has been handled,
and laid bare,
in front of strangers.

Heart laid bare,
the weakest walls exposed
and shored up,
clogged arteries
discovered and cleared.
Heart handled,
put back
for its red roots
to settle.

The days after,
each beat wonders
will I live?
Every breath hurts.
The months after, each beat waits
for the seals to set,
for the scar,
like a mummy's mouth,
silent ceiling over the
hidden stitches,
to pale a little,
to flatten and soften its grimace
a little.
The years after,
street clothes hide it,
hide the question
will I walk?
Will this heart sustain me
in the sprints of joy,
the sweats of panic?

The psalm says
Open hearted,
the good person gives to the poor.
We stand,
survivors of less visible repairs,
looking in at the nest of tubes,
following the arpeggio of beats
on the monitor.

Today is Columbus Day, which celebrates the discovery of the New World. Christopher Columbus was searching for a direct route to India and Asia when he set off from Italy in August of 1492. When he finally saw land in October of that year, he thought he had found an island off India, and he called the natives Indians. He christened this island San Salvador, and claimed it for Spain. He then sailed on to Cuba, which he thought was Japan. He never realized he had discovered the New World.

It's the birthday of children's author R(obert) L(awrence) Stine, born in Columbus, Ohio (1943), who is the best-selling children's author in history with over ninety million books sold. His series Fear Street proved to be immensely popular—but not as popular as his next series. Written for eight- to eleven-year-olds, the Goosebumps series of book was launched in 1992. R.L. Stein, who said, "It thrills me that I finally found something to get boys to read, after 25 years of trying. That's what I want on my tombstone: 'He got boys to read.' "

It's the birthday of novelist Meyer Levin, born in Chicago, Illinois (1905), whose literary life was punctuated by a series of tumultuous events. In 1924, he visited Palestine for the first time, and in 1931 he published his novel, Yehuda, which was the first fictional treatment of life on a communal farm, or kibbutz. He published several more books about Jewish life. Levin's wife introduced him to Anne Frank's diary, and, working with Otto Frank, Levin arranged for it to be published in America. In 1956, he wrote Compulsion, the story of the Leopold-Loeb murder case.

It's the birthday of printmaker and playwright Alfred Jarry, born in Laval, France (1873). Jarry basically invented the theater of the absurd with his play, Ubu Roi.

It's the birthday of inventor James Frank Duryea, born in Philadelphia (1869), who, with his brother Charles, invented the first automobile that was actually built and operated in the United States in 1893.

In 1871 on this day, the Great Fire of Chicago was started. Legend has it that it was started by a cow owned by a Mrs. O'Leary, who ran a dairy business from the barn outside of her home. Her neighbor, Daniel Sullivan, was the first to see and report the fire. Later, he became the probable suspect. Conditions were perfect for a fire. It had been a very dry summer, and on the previous day, four city blocks had burned. In just over an hour on October 8, the west side of the city was in ashes. The fire jumped the Chicago River and pushed toward the center of the city. More than 500 buildings were on fire at once. The fire burned until the morning of October 10, when a steady rain began to fall. More than 300 people had died and 100,000 were left homeless.

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