Apr. 20, 2004
Poem: "Angels," by Maurya Simon, from Ghost Orchid. © Red Hen Press. Reprinted with permission..
Who are without mercy,
Who confide in trumpet flowers,
Who carry loose change in their pockets,
Who dress in black velvet,
Who wince and fidget like bats,
Who balance their haloes on hatracks,
Who watch reruns of famine,
Who powder their noses with pollen,
Who laugh and unleash earthquakes,
Who sidle in and out of our dreams
Like magicians, like childhood friends,
Who practice their smiles like pirates,
Who exercise by walking to Zion,
Who live on the edge of doubt,
Who cause vertigo but ease migraines,
Who weep milky tears when troubled,
Whose night sweats engender the plague,
Who pinion their arms to chandeliers,
Who speak in riddles and slant rhymes,
Who love the weak and foolhardy,
Who lust for unripe persimmons,
Who scavenge the fields for lost souls,
Who hover near lighthouses,
Who pray at railroad crossings,
Who supervise the study of rainbows,
Who cannot blush but try,
Who curl their hair with corkscrews,
Who honeymoon with Orion,
Who are not wise but pure,
Who behave with impious propriety,
Who hourly scour our faces with hope,
Whose own faces glow like radium,
Whom we've created in our own form,
Who are without mercy, seek and yearn
To return us like fossilized roses
To the wholeness of our original bloom.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It's the birthday of science fiction writer Ian Watson, born in St. Albans, England (1943). He grew up in England in the 1950s, at a time when realistic fiction about working-class British was becoming all the rage. Watson read novels by writers like Kingsley Amis, Alan Sillitoe, and Colin Wilson, but he grew tired of reading about depressed people living in bleak towns. He started reading science fiction novels, and a few years later he started writing them.
His novel God's World (1979) is about a group of astronauts who set out to find heaven in a distant solar system. In The Jonah Kit (1975), the universe is discovered to be just a few microseconds old, and a whale is given the soul of a human. Watson's most popular books are those that comprise the Black River/Yaleen trilogy: The Book of the River (1984), The Book of the Stars (1985) and The Book of Being (1985). In these books, a river divides two societies, one female-dominated and one male-dominated. Men from the male-dominated society who try to cross the river are driven insane.
It's the birthday of artist Joan Miro, born in Barcelona, Spain (1893). He took a drawing class when he was ten years old, and knew immediately that that's what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. He later said, "That class was like a religious ceremony to me. I would wash my hands carefully before touching paper or pencils. The instruments of work were sacred objects to me." His parents tried to force him to become a bookkeeper, but he rebelled against them and became friends with a group of artists and intellectuals in Barcelona. He fell in love with modernist paintings by artists like Monet, Van Gogh, Gaugin, Cézanne, and Picasso.
Miro became known for his colorful, surrealistic paintings that combined abstract shapes with plants, animals, and people. In 1958, he made a huge ceramic mural for the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, and he went on to make many more large-scale public murals and sculptures for airports, hospitals, schools, and museums around the world.
It's the birthday of one of the founders of psychiatry, Philippe Pinel, born in Saint-André, France (1745). He studied mathematics, theology, and internal medicine before becoming the chief physician at a Paris insane asylum in 1792. Before Pinel arrived, conditions at the asylum were horrible: patients were chained to the walls like animals, and people could pay a fee to come in and watch them. Pinel put a stop to these practices, as well as misguided treatments like bleeding, purging, and blistering. Popular theory at the time held that the insane were possessed by demons, but Pinel argued that they were just under social and psychological stresses. He started treating patients by talking to them about their problems in intense conversations on a regular basis, which paved the way for modern psychiatric practices.
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