Nov. 9, 2007

The Minor Prophets

by Michael Lind

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Poem: "The Minor Prophets" by Michael Lind, from Parallel Lives. © Etruscan Press, 2008. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

The Minor Prophets

     None of the minor prophets
knew that he was minor, of course. Habakkuk, I imagine,
     thought that his visions earned him
standing as Ezekiel's peer, if not indeed Elijah's.
     Then there was Obadiah,
who could be forgiven if he thought he might be a Moses.
     How they would be remembered
Providence concealed from them all, though they could see the future.

     Maybe it doesn't matter.
If you're on a mission from God, sent to rebuke a city
     or to redeem a nation,
where by canon-makers you're ranked may be inconsequential.
     Nor is the voice within you
any less authentic for not having a distant echo.
     Seers of the world, be heartened.
Even minor prophets can have genuine revelations.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Carl Sagan, (books by this author) born in Brooklyn, New York (1934), who did more to promote space exploration than almost any other single person. He was a young astronomer advising NASA on a mission to send remote-controlled spacecrafts to Venus, when he learned that the spacecrafts would carry no cameras, because the other scientists considered cameras to be excess weight. Sagan couldn't believe they would give up the chance to see an alien planet up close. He lost the argument that time, but it's largely thanks to him that cameras were used on the Viking, Voyager, and Galileo missions, giving us the first real photographs of planets like Jupiter and Saturn and their moons.

Sagan also persuaded NASA engineers to turn the Voyager I spacecraft around on Valentine's Day in 1990, so that it could take a picture of Earth from the very edge of our solar system, about 4 billion miles away. In the photograph, Earth appears as a tiny bluish speck. Sagan later wrote of the photograph, "Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives... [on] a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam."

Carl Sagan, who created the TV show Cosmos, which is still the most popular science program every produced for television. He actually never used the phrase "billions and billions of stars," which is often attributed to him, but Billions and Billions is the title of his last collection of essays, which came out in 1997, the year after he died.

It's the birthday of the poet Anne Sexton, (books by this author) born Anne Harvey in Newton, Massachusetts (1928), who had a horrific childhood. She once said that she was locked in her bedroom until she was five years old. She ran away from home, eloped when she was 19, never went to college, became a suburban housewife, and then had a nervous breakdown when she was 28. After a suicide attempt, her psychiatrist advised her to try to writing poetry as therapy. She did, and within a few years of producing her first poems, she had published her work in more than 40 magazines, including The New Yorker.

For the rest of her life, she was in and out of mental institutions, on and off psychiatric drugs, and she said that poetry was the only thing that kept her alive. She said, "My fans think I got well, but I didn't: I just became a poet." Her collections include To Bedlam and Partway Back (1960), All My Pretty Ones (1962), and Live or Die (1966), which won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. She committed suicide in 1974. Anne Sexton said, "Poetry is my love, my postmark, my hands, my kitchen, my face."

Today is the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the night in 1938 when Hitler ordered a series of supposedly spontaneous attacks on Jewish homes, businesses, and synagogues. The idea was to make the attacks look random, and then accuse the Jews of inciting the violence. In all, more than 1,000 synagogues were burned or destroyed. Rioters looted about 7,500 Jewish businesses and vandalized Jewish hospitals, homes, schools, and cemeteries. The event was used to justify barring Jews from schools and most public places, and forcing them to adhere to new curfews. In the days following, thousands of Jews were sent to concentration camps. The event was called Kristallnacht, which means, "Night of Broken Glass." It's generally considered the official beginning of the Holocaust. Before that night, the Nazis had killed people secretly and individually. After Kristallnacht, the Nazis felt free to persecute the Jews openly, because they knew no one would stop them.

It was on this day in 1906 that Teddy Roosevelt went against more than a century of tradition and became the first American president ever to leave the country while in office. He went to view the construction site of the Panama Canal, and when he saw a steam shovel for the first time, he stopped his train and hiked through the mud to take a turn at the controls.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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