Dec. 2, 2007
Eating A Mango Over The Kitchen Sink
Poem: "Eating A Mango Over The Kitchen Sink" by Phebe Hanson, from Why Still Dance. © Nodin Press, 2003. Reprinted with permission.(buy now)
It's the only way to do it, even though Melody, my Weight Watchers
lecturer, has admonished us against the over-the-sink method of eating:
"Use your best china and silver, sit down, light candles, eat slowly."
But a mango is a different story, impossible to eat except leaning
over the sink, tropical juice dripping down my pale Minnesota
winter wrists as I gaze
out at snow raging against my windows, like the storms of my childhood.
How I used to love them, when everything shut down schools, stores,
post office, bank, and churches. "I suppose the pool hall's open," my father said,
knowing some in his congregation preferred that haven to church.
Our whole family clustered together, joyful over a free day,
and even my stepmother
seemed happy, made cinnamon toast and cocoa with marshmallows
instead of the slimy oatmeal we all hated but had to eat,
and my father postponed his sermon-writing to join us after supper
in the living room while we listened to Lux Radio Theater,
sermons, the dirty clothes in the basement, waiting on the cement floor.
For once we were all contented, sitting together on our old
davenport, even though not one of us had ever tasted a mango.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It was on this day in 1942 that scientists working on the Manhattan Project at the University of Chicago conducted the first-ever man-made nuclear reaction. The leader of the experiment was the Italian immigrant Enrico Fermi, who had won a Nobel Prize for discovering fission. He had realized that if you split an atom with a neutron, the split atom would produce more neutrons, which could then split other atoms, and so on, creating a chain reaction. To test the idea, he and his assistants built a makeshift nuclear reactor on an unused squash court near the university's football field, constructing a pile of uranium bricks interspersed with graphite blocks to slow down the neutrons. They used neutron-absorbing cadmium rods to delay the reaction until they were ready. A couple of young physicists stood on a scaffold over the pile with buckets of liquid cadmium as an emergency measure in case there was a meltdown.
They started the reaction at 9:45 a.m., withdrawing all the cadmium rods so that the uranium neutrons would begin splitting atoms. The only way they could observe what was happening was with their Geiger counters, which measured the number of neutrons in the room. As the rods were removed, the Geiger counters made a clicking sound that grew faster and faster, until they began to make a sound that one of the eyewitnesses described as a roar. Finally, Fermi announced that the reaction had reached critical mass, and they reinserted the rods to shut it down. People applauded, but nobody cheered. They celebrated with paper cups of Chianti, but nobody made a toast. One of the young physicists there that day said, "We had known that we were about to unlock a giant; still, we could not escape an eerie feeling when we knew we had actually done it."
It's the birthday of short-story writer George Saunders, (books by this author) born in Amarillo, Texas (1958), who has published a series of surreal, comic stories in his collections CivilWarLand in Bad Decline (1996) and Pastoralia (2000). His most recent book is The Braindead Megaphone (2007).
It's the birthday of novelist Ann Patchett, (books by this author) born in Los Angeles (1963), whose first big success was the novel Bel Canto (2001) about a hostage crisis in which terrorists take control over an extravagant party and hold the guests hostage for months, and over time, some of the hostages and terrorists become friends and even lovers. Her most recent novel is Run, which came out this year (2007). Ann Patchett said, "I believe that my gift in this world is not that I'm smarter or more talented than anyone else: it's that I had a singular goal. I don't want other stuff: friends, kids, travel. What makes me happy is writing."
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®