Friday

Jun. 20, 2003

Divine Mathematics

by Ginger Andrews

FRIDAY, 20 JUNE 2003
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Poem:
Divine Mathematics," by Ginger Andrews from Hurricane Sisters.

Divine Mathematics

In her second month of a three-month-long virus,
which, according to half a dozen fellow victims,
does not respond to antibiotics, my sister apologizes
for needing to take her third nap of the day
on my sofa. Homeless and divorced, she's relieved
to know that a trip to the doctor most likely wouldn't
do her any good, especially since she has no insurance
coverage of any kind, except on her '78 Ford Fairmont,
with its brand new master cylinder, which thanks to God
and Les Schwab's low monthly payment plan,
should be paid for by the end of the year,
at which time she hopes to get a rotation,
two new tires, and a badly needed front end alignment,
all for just under a hundred bucks.

Literary Notes:

It's the birthday of poet Paul Muldoon, born in Portadown, Ireland (1951). He's the author of many collections of poetry including Moy Sand and Gravel (2002), which won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry this year.

It's the birthday of Vikram Seth, born in Calcutta, India (1952). He's the author of the novels A Suitable Boy (1993) and An Equal Music (2000).

Today is the anniversary of the day in 1893 when a jury in New Bedford, Massachusetts found Lizzie Borden innocent of the murders of Abby and Andrew Borden. It was one of the first widely publicized murder trials in the United States, and it inspired the nursery rhyme:

Lizzie Borden took an ax
and gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done
she gave her father forty-one.

Lizzie Borden was the youngest daughter of the family, but she was in her thirties at the time of the murders. She never married and lived at home. She spent her time volunteering at the local hospital and teaching Sunday school. Her father was the president of a bank and one of the richest and stingiest men in town. Despite his wealth, he and his family lived in a small cramped house with no running water. He liked to pick up junk on the road and resell it for extra cash, and there was a broken padlock in his pocket on the day he died. On a Thursday morning, August 4, 1892, Mr. Borden went to work in the morning. He came home a few hours later and took a nap on the couch. At about 11:15 AM, Lizzie began calling out to her neighbors saying that her father had been killed. When the police arrived, his wife's body was found upstairs, also dead. Mrs. Borden had actually received eighteen whacks with a hatchet, and Mr. Borden had received ten. By 2:15 that same day, the local newspaper had already published a story about the incident. Two days later, newspaper reporters began to speculate on the guilt of Lizzie. She had been in the house at the time of the murders, she had a lot of money to gain, and it turned out that she had recently tried to buy poison at the pharmacy. The case soon became a national story, covered by newspapers all over the country. The police based their case entirely on circumstantial evidence, and they failed to convince the jury. Lizzie was acquitted on June 20, 1894. Some people believed that a jury was simply unwilling to condemn a woman to hang. No one else was ever tried for the murder. After the trial, Lizzie bought herself a three-story mansion, where she had running water for the first time in her life. The town of Fall River, Massachusetts was ashamed of her until her death, but the house where the murders occurred is now a bed and breakfast and museum. Lizzie Borden has been the subject of a Broadway play, an opera, a novel, and a ballet. The nursery rhyme about her appears in an English textbook for Japanese students, where it is credited to Mother Goose.


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