Dec. 12, 2007

Upon Seeing an Ultrasound Photo of an Unborn Child

by Thomas Lux

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Poem: "Upon Seeing an Ultrasound Photo of an Unborn Child" by Thomas Lux, from The Drowned River. © Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990. Reprinted with permission.(buy now)

Upon Seeing an Ultrasound Photo of an Unborn Child

Tadpole, it's not time yet to nag you
about college (though I have some thoughts
on that), baseball (ditto), or abstract
principles. Enjoy your delicious,
soupy womb-warmth, do some rolls and saults
(it'll be too crowded soon), delight in your early
dreams — which no one will attempt to analyze.
For now: may your toes blossom, your fingers
lengthen, your sexual organs grow (too soon
to tell which yet) sensitive, your teeth
form their buds in their forming jawbone, your already
booming heart expand (literally
now, metaphorically later); O your spine,
eyebrows, nape, knees, fibulae,
lungs, lips... But your soul,
dear child: I don't see it here, when
does that come in, whence? Perhaps God,
and your mother, and even I — we'll all contribute
and you'll learn yourself to coax it
from wherever: your soul, which holds your bones
together and lets you live
on earth. — Fingerling, sidecar, nubbin,
I'm waiting, it's me, Dad,
I'm out here. You already know
where Mom is. I'll see you more directly
upon arrival. You'll recognize
me — I'll be the tall-seeming, delighted
blond guy, and I'll have
your nose.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of French novelist Gustave Flaubert, (books by this author) born in Rouen, France (1821), whose first novel was an elaborate historical romance set in the fourth century called The Temptation of Saint Anthony. When he showed it to friends, they hated it and told him to write a novel about ordinary middle-class French society instead. So Flaubert took his friends' advice and moved home with his mother to do research.

The result was Madame Bovary (1857), the story of a housewife who spends all her time reading romance novels, but when she realizes that her life will never compare to her books, she begins a series of love affairs to stave off her boredom. Flaubert wrote the novel extremely slowly, sometimes producing only 500 words a week, in part because he wanted to describe even the most ordinary things in a new way. He said, "It is so easy to chatter about the Beautiful. But it takes more genius to say, in proper style, 'close the door,' or 'he wanted to sleep,' than to give all the literature courses in the world."

Madam Bovary is now considered Flaubert's great masterpiece, but in his lifetime he was best known for his second book, Salammbo, about pagan rituals and human sacrifice. It became a huge best-seller when it was published in 1862, though it is rarely read today.

Gustave Flaubert wrote, "To be stupid, selfish, and have good health are three requirements for happiness, though if stupidity is lacking, all is lost."

It's the birthday of Frank Sinatra, (music by this artist) born in Hoboken (1915), who got a job with his first singing group only because he had his own car and could drive the group to gigs. They won an amateur singing contest on a radio show with the largest call-in vote in the show's history. Sinatra eventually began working on his own, singing in bars, and the trumpeter Harry James saw one of his performances, and offered to hire him as a vocalist for $75 a week. But he told Sinatra that he had to change his awful name. Sinatra said, "You want the voice, you take the name." And so he got to keep it.

His first booking as a soloist was an eight-week run at New York's Paramount Theatre, longer than any other solo engagement at the Paramount up to that time. His press agent was so nervous about his debut that he hired a dozen girls to stand at the front of the theater to swoon and scream, but it wasn't necessary. Hundreds of other women showed up and did the same thing.

Sinatra became famous as a crooner, but his vocal chords ruptured during a performance at the Copacabana. He was photographed in the company of known mobsters, he was constantly in the tabloids, and his record label dropped him. So he went back to singing small joints, theaters, and saloons and slowly built his confidence back up. He approached Capitol Records for a new recording contract, and the result was a new Sinatra. Instead of a crooner, he sounded like an everyman. He could sing all kinds of songs: pop, swing, jazz, show tunes, and ballads, and he went on to become one of the most successful solo singers in history, recording "I Get a Kick Out of You," "Young at Heart," "All of Me," "What Is This Thing Call Love?" and "That's Life."

It's the birthday of British playwright John Osborne, (books by this author) born in London (1929), who was expelled from boarding school at 16 for hitting a schoolmaster who had turned off a radio that was playing Frank Sinatra. He went on to write the play Look Back in Anger (1956), which helped inspire the "angry young man" movement in British theater. Osborne wrote, "I do not like the kind of society in which I find myself. I like it less and less. I love the theatre more and more because I know that it is what I always dreamed it might be: a weapon."

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




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