Nov. 23, 2001

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Poem: "KFAC," by Charles Bukowski from the night torn mad with footsteps (Black Sparrow Press).


here I sit
as the radio announcer
says, "for the next
3 hours we will be listening
to a selection of…"

it's now eleven p.m.
I've listened to this man's
for many many years.
he must be getting quite
his station plays the best

I don't recall how many
women I have lived with
while listening to that
how many cars I've
or how many places I've
lived in.

now each time I hear his
voice I think, well, he's still
alive, he sounds good
but the poor fellow must be
getting very old.

some day
he'll have his funeral,
a little trail of cars
the hearse.

and then
there'll be
a new voice
to listen to.

he must be very old now,
that fellow,
and every time I hear his voice
I pour a tall one
to salute him
happy that he's made it
for one more
along with me.

It's the birthday of the Romanian-born French poet Paul Célan, born Paul Antschel, in what is now Chernovsty, Ukraine (1920). When the Nazis took control of Romania, he was sent to a forced labor camp and his parents were murdered. His poem "Death Fugue" is one of the great poems to come out of the Holocaust. "Death is a master from Germany," he wrote, "his eyes are blue."

It's the birthday of playwright and librettist Guy Reginald Bolton, born in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, England (1884). Although he was born in England, his parents were Americans, and it was in America—on Broadway—that he achieved his fame. His first play was performed on Broadway in 1911, but it wasn't until he hooked up with collaborator P. G. Woodhouse and composer Jerome Kern on the 1917 musical Oh, Boy! that he began to hit his stride. More successful collaborations followed, including Lady, Be Good! (1918), with music by the Gershwins, and Anything Goes (1934) with music by Cole Porter.

On this date in 1863, Federal forces led by General Ulysses S. Grant faced off against Confederate forces under General Braxton Bragg in the opening of the decisive Battle of Chattanooga. For over two months, Bragg's army had besieged the occupying Union forces of General William Rosecrans in Chattanooga, Tennessee, which was an important railroad junction for the Confederacy. General Grant, with reinforcements from General Joseph Hooker and General William T. Sherman, lifted the siege and defeated the Confederate army at nearby Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge. The taking of Chattanooga made it possible for General Sherman to launch his march to Atlanta.

It's the birthday of William H. Bonney Jr., better known as Billy the Kid, born in New York City (1860). He was born in New York's East Side, migrated to Kansas with his parents, moved with his mother to Colorado after his father died, and finally ended up in New Mexico, where as a teenager he fell into a life of crime. He and his gangs wandered throughout the Southwest, thieving and murdering, until he was finally captured by Sheriff Pat Garrett in December 1880. He stood trial for murder, was found guilty, and was sentenced to hang. On April 30, 1881, he broke out of jail, killing two deputies in the process. Sheriff Garrett hunted him down, and shot him dead in an ambush on July 14, 1881. Legend has it he killed 27 men in his short career, which ended when he was only 21. One man who knew him said: "He was a tough customer, ruthless with his enemies, but generous to his friends, the native rancheros. His good looks, charming personality, and fine dancing won him the admiration of the younger set, who considered him a gay caballero. But he was a desperado, a gunman, and a killer."

It's the birthday of Italian botanist Prospero Alpini, born in Marostica, Vicenza, Italy (1553). He was the first scientist to recognize sexual difference in trees, that there are male trees and female trees. In 1593, he was appointed professor of botany at the University of Padua, and cultivated several species of plants described in his Book of Egyptian Plants (1592). Among these were coffee and bananas, which he introduced to Europe, and a type of ginger commonly known as galangal.

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