Wednesday

Mar. 7, 2007

Parents

by William Meredith

WEDNESDAY, 7 MARCH, 2007
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Poem: "Parents" by William Meredith, from The Cheer. © Alfred A. Knopf. Reprinted with permission.

Parents

What it must be like to be an angel
or a squirrel, we can imagine sooner.

The last time we go to bed good,
they are there, lying about darkness.

They dandle us once too often,
these friends who become our enemies.

Suddenly one day, their juniors
are as old as we yearn to be.

They get wrinkles where it is better
smooth, odd coughs, and smells.

It is grotesque how they go on
loving us, we go on loving them.

The effrontery, barely imaginable,
of having caused us. And of how.

Their lives: surely
we can do better than that.

This goes on for a long time. Everything
they do is wrong, and the worst thing,

they all do it, is to die,
taking with them the last explanation,

how we came out of the wet sea
or wherever they got us from,

taking the last link
of that chain with them.

Father, mother, we cry, wrinkling,
to our uncomprehending children and grandchildren.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1994 that the Supreme Court ruled that parody can be protected by the fair use clause of the Copyright Act of 1976. The case arose from a song by the rap group 2 Live Crew, which used elements of the Roy Orbison song from 1964, "Oh Pretty Woman."

Among those who sent "friend of the court" briefs in support of 2 Live Crew were Mad magazine, The Harvard Lampoon, and the Comedy Central TV channel. The Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of parody.


It's the birthday of literary critic and James Joyce scholar William York Tindall, (books by this author) born in Williamstown, Vermont (1903). He was a literature student when he discovered James Joyce's novel Ulysses (1922) while traveling in Paris. He became obsessed with Joyce, and read all of his works. When he returned to the U.S., he started teaching a course in modern literature at New York University, and he was one of the first professors in the United States to assign Ulysses to his students. The book was still banned in the U.S. at the time, so his students had to read a bootlegged copy that was chained to a desk in the library.


It was on this day in 1876 that Alexander Graham Bell received patent No. 174,465 for the telephone. He filed for his patent on the same day as a Chicago electrician named Elisha Gray filed for a patent on basically the same device. Bell only beat Gray by two hours.


It was on this day in 1933 that a man named Charles Darrow trademarked the board game Monopoly. Darrow based the game on an earlier game called "The Landlord's Game," which had been designed by a woman named Elizabeth Magie to teach people about the evils of capitalism.


It was on this day in 1917 that the Victor Talking Machine Company released the first jazz record in American history. There were various terms for this new music. It was called "ratty music," "gut-bucket music," and "hot music." Historians aren't sure how it came to be called jazz, but it's believed that the word may have come from a West African word for speeding things up. It was also a slang term for sex.

The first band to record jazz was The Original Dixieland Jass Band, an all-white group led by an Italian-American cornetist from New Orleans.


On this day in 1923, Robert Frost's (books by this author) poem "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" was published in The New Republic magazine. It was Frost's favorite of his own poems. Though it's a poem about winter, Frost wrote the first draft on a warm morning in the middle of June. The night before he had stayed up working at his kitchen table on a long, difficult poem called "New Hampshire" (1923). He wrote "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" in just a few minutes, almost without lifting his pen off the page. He said, "It was as if I'd had a hallucination."


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