Monday

Aug. 26, 2002

Because

by R. S. Thomas

MONDAY, 26 AUGUST 2002
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Poem: "Because," by R..S. Thomas from Collected Poems 1945-1990 (Orion Publishing Group).

Because

I praise you because
I envy your ability to
See these things: the blind hands
Of the aged combing sunlight
For pity; the starved fox and
The obese pet; the way the world
Digests itself and the thin flame
Scours. The youth enters
The brothel, and the girl enters
The nunnery, and a bell tolls.
Viruses invade the blood.
On the smudged empires the dust
Lies and in the libraries
Of the poets. The flowers whither
On love's grave. This is what
Life is, and on it your eye
Sets tearless, and the dark
Is dear to you as the light.


It's the birthday of Barbara Ehrenreich, born in Butte, Montana (1941). Ehrenreich's most recent book, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, was published last year. It's a first-person account of trying to get by on jobs that pay minimum wage. Ehrenreich wondered how single mothers earning seven dollars an hour could possibly make ends meet. She worked as a waitress, a house cleaner and a Wal-mart employee, and found that there was no way she could both pay her rent and eat on the salary she made in any of the three places. She said that she kept waiting for her bosses to say, "Hey, there's something different about you. Aren't you a little well-bred for this place? Aren't you cut out for something better than this?" Not one of them ever did.

On this day in 1939, the first baseball game was broadcast on television. It was the Cincinnati Reds in a double-header against the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbett's Field, and it was broadcast on the experimental station W2XBS, in Queens. The Reds took the first game, and the Dodgers took the second.

It's the birthday of Julio Cortazar, born in Brussels (1914). He grew up in Argentina, but moved to Paris after he got his degree to protest the dictatorship of Peron. His first success was a collection of short stories called Bestiary (1951); the novel Hopscotch, written in 1963, made him an international celebrity. Hopscotch has three sections; the first is set in Paris, the second in Buenos Aires, and the third, all essays, is called "Expendable Chapters." The reader can start at Chapter One and stop at Chapter Fifty-Five "with a clear conscience," Cortazar says, or else start with Chapter Seventy-Three and jump back and forth through the book according to a Table of Instructions. It is also possible to read the book backwards. Pablo Neruda said, "Anyone who doesn't read Cortázar is doomed. Not to read him is a serious, invisible disease, which, in time, can have terrible consequences. Something similar to a man who has never tasted peaches. He would quietly become sadder...and, probably, little by little, he would lose his hair."

It's the birthday of Christopher Isherwood, born in Cheshire, England (1904). He spent the years between the world wars in Berlin, where he wrote the short stories that were made, later, into the musical Cabaret. Then he moved to southern California, where he wrote screenplays and became a disciple to an Indian guru. He was one of the first public figures to declare openly that he was homosexual.

On this day in 1893, Jack London returned to San Francisco after an eight-month expedition hunting seals on the Sophia Sutherland. He was seventeen. The ship had traveled to Hawaii, some of the remoter islands off Japan, the Bering Straits, and Alaska. When he got home, he got a job in a jute mill working ten hours a day, making ten cents an hour. That fall he entered a contest run by the San Francisco Morning Call. His entry was "The Story of a Typhoon off the Coast of Japan," and he won twenty-five dollars for it. It was all failure after that, though. He sent manuscripts off to publishers, but everything was rejected. He pawned his only good suit, his bicycle and his typewriter to get more money for postage. He wrote his fiancée, "…before I give in, I will go naked and hungry." Within a year he was writing for the Atlantic Monthly, and had a signed a book contract with Houghton Mifflin.


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