Dec. 27, 2001

The Changed Man

by Robert Phillips

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Poem: "The Changed Man," by Robert Phillips from Spinach Days (The Johns Hopkins University Press).

The Changed Man

If you were to hear me imitating Pavarotti
in the shower every morning, you'd know
how much you have changed my life.

If you were to see me stride across the park,
waving to strangers, then you would know
I am a changed man—like Scrooge

awakened from his bad dreams feeling feather-
light, angel-happy, laughing the father
of a long line of bright laughs—

"It is still not too late to change my life!"
It is changed. Me, who felt short-changed.
Because of you I no longer hate my body.

Because of you I buy new clothes.
Because of you I'm a warrior of joy.
Because of you and me. Drop by

this Saturday morning and discover me
fiercely pulling weeds gladly, dedicated
as a born-again gardener.

Drop by on Sunday—I'll Turtlewax
your sky-blue sports car, no sweat. I'll greet
enemies with a handshake, forgive debtors

with a papal largesse. It's all because
of you. Because of you and me,
I've become one changed man.

It's the birthday of child psychologist and author Lee Salk, born in New York City (1926). The brother of Jonas Salk, the inventor of the polio vaccine, Lee Salk first came to national attention in 1960 when he published research showing that the sound of a mother's heartbeat had a calming effect on a newborn infant. His first book, How to Raise a Human Being (1969), focused on early child development, stating that children need care like holding and cuddling, and learn from their environments even within the first 24 hours of their lives outside the womb. In his 1973 book, What Every Child Would Like His Parents to Know, he alienated a generation of working women by cautioning against abandoning full-time motherhood.

It's the birthday of author and researcher William H. Masters, born in Cleveland (1915). Masters hired an assistant, Johnson, and they published the bestseller Human Sexual Response (1966).

It's the birthday of poet and essayist Charles Olson, born in Worcester, Massachusetts (1910). His real influence began in the late 1940s as an instructor and then as rector at Black Mountain College in North Carolina. Olson became disenchanted with politics when Franklin Roosevelt died, and he moved to Key West, Florida, to dedicate himself to poetry. In 1949, he published a long poem called The Kingfishers, in which the narrator renounces his European heritage and embraces the Indian cultures of the New World. His final work, The Maximus Poems: Volume Three, was published posthumously in 1975.

It's the birthday of author and conservationist Louis Bromfield, born in Mansfield, Ohio (1896). Brought up on his grandfather's farm, Bromfield developed a love for agriculture and farming. He studied agriculture at Cornell University but then went to Columbia University to study journalism. In 1916 he went to France and served as a driver in the American Ambulance Corps, participating in seven battles before the end of WWI. He returned to New York City as a reporter, and wrote his first novel, The Green Bay Tree, in 1924. His book Early Autumn, a portrait of an old New England family, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1927. Two years earlier, he and his family went to France for a vacation, but they ended up staying for 13 years. Bromfield was a prolific writer, he wrote almost a book a year, as well as dozens of short stories. Also during this time, Bromfield visited India, which inspired his 1937 novel, The Rains Came, considered to be his best work of fiction. The following year, he and his family moved back to the Midwest to a home he called Malabar Farm. There he introduced such new farming techniques as crop rotation, erosion control, and farm pond development. Bromfield wrote dozens of screenplays and was friends with many of the most famous people in Hollywood; Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall were married at Malabar Farm. Bromfield later turned from fiction to non-fiction, and wrote about farming in many of his later works, including Out of the Earth (1950) and From My Experience: The Pleasures and Miseries of Life on a Farm (1955). After his death in 1956, Malabar Farm became an experimental and model farm. It is now owned and operated by the state of Ohio. In 1980, he was posthumously elected to the Ohio Agricultural Hall of Fame.

It's the birthday of novelist and playwright Zona Gale, born in Portage, Wisconsin (1874). In 1920 she published the novel Miss Lulu Bett, the story of a spinster's attempts to escape from the drudgery of small town life.

It's the birthday of chemist Louis Pasteur, born in Dole, France (1822). Although he was not a physician, Pasteur was one of the most important medical scientists of the 19th century. He made four important discoveries that changed the modern world. First, he discovered that most infectious diseases are caused by germs, and that instituting sanitary conditions in hospitals could save many lives. Second, he discovered that weakened forms of a germ or microbe could be used as a vaccine to immunize against more virulent forms of the microbe. Third, he discovered that rabies was transmitted by particles so small they could not be seen under a microscope, thus revealing the existence of viruses. And fourth, he developed pasteurization, a process that uses heat to destroy harmful microbes in food products without destroying the food itself.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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