Aug. 4, 2007
Poem: "1978" by Cecilia Woloch, from Late. © BOA Editions, 2003. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
That winter we were so broke
we each siphoned gasoline from the other's cars,
lived on tea and cigarettes.
You let me wear the moth-eaten mink
your last lover, the stripper, had left behind.
(Or was she a fire-eater, that Rose, an exotic dancer
heading west and sure you would follow her?
You did.) Icy mornings, I lay in bed
while you warmed both engines; the frost would melt.
The check would come in the mail any day;
you'd take me to breakfast, suddenly rich.
But while we were young and poor our breath
was visible, like steam, like smoke.
(And Rosa, your Rosa, your Rose
was the ghost in each photograph you took.
I turned from the camera, ashamed
of how my face was still unformed.)
When the snow blurred to rain you would go.
I remember the taste of gasoline
and how you wrote a few times from the road
that sullen spring, then never wrote.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It's the birthday of one of the longest-running White House reporters in American history, Helen Thomas (books by this author), born in Winchester, Kentucky (1920). She went to Washington, D.C. to get a job as a journalist, but the only job she could find was getting coffee and donuts for reporters at the Washington Daily News. Even though she wasn't a journalist yet, she just loved being there. She would hover near the news ticker, and she got excited whenever the bell would ring to announce a news bulletin.
She eventually worked her way up to a job writing for the United Press International. She started covering the White House during the Kennedy administration and developed a reputation for extraordinary bluntness. She has gone on to cover every president since Kennedy, attending almost every White House press conference for more than 45 years. In all that time, she has occasionally been criticized for being too tough on presidents, asking too many combative questions. But she once said, "I just treat [presidents] like other human beings. I don't bow and scrape. I don't ask for their autographs. I cover them. They deserve respect, but not awe and certainly not fear."
Her most recent book is Watchdogs of Democracy?: The Waning Washington Press Corps and How It Has Failed the Public (2006).
It's the birthday of the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (books by this author), born in Sussex, England (1792). He died before the age of 30, because he was a careless sailor, but many of his poems are considered masterpieces, including "The Cloud," "To a Skylark," and "Prometheus Unbound."
He said, "Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world." And Shelly said, "Do it now write nothing but what your conviction of its truth inspires you to writ. ... Contemporary criticism only represents the amount of ignorance genius has to contend with."
It's the birthday of Louis Armstrong (music and books by this artist), born in New Orleans, Louisiana (1901), in a poor section of town known as "The Battlefield." In 1907, Louis formed a vocal quartet with three other boys and performed on street corners for tips. The Karnofskys, a family of Russian Jewish immigrants, hired Louis to work on their junk wagon. Louis purchased his first cornet with money the family lent him.
In 1913, he was sent to a reform school as a juvenile delinquent, and that's where he learned to play the cornet. Armstrong listened to pioneers like New Orleans cornetist King Oliver, who gave Armstrong his big break by letting him play in the Creole Jazz Band in Chicago in 1922.
Armstrong's Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings (1925-1928) were among the first 50 items preserved by the National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress. His autobiographies include Swing That Music (1936) and Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans (1954).
He said, "Musicians don't retire; they stop when there's no more music in them."
He also said, "If ya ain't got it in ya, ya can't blow it out."
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®