Dec. 27, 2007


by Ron Padgett

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Poem: "Jeopardy" by Ron Padgett, from How to Be Perfect © Coffee House Press, 2007. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)


Sometimes when I phoned
my mother back in Tulsa, she would
say, "Hold on a minute, Ron, let me
turn this thing down," the thing
her TV, and she would look
around for the remote and then fumble
with its little buttons as an irritation
mounted in me and an impatience
and I felt like blurting out "You watch TV
too much and it's too loud and why
don't you go outside" because I was
unable to face my dread of her aging
and my heart made cold toward her
by loving her though not wanting to give up
my life and live near her so she
could see me every day and not
just hear me, which is why she
turned the TV down and said,
"Okay, that's better," then sometimes
launched into a detailed account
of whatever awful show she was watching.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of astronomer Johannes Kepler, born to a poor mercenary in Wurttemberg, Germany (1571), who tracked the orbital path of Mars and published his three famous laws of planetary motion — which validated Copernicus's theory of a sun-centered solar system — and later helped Isaac Newton discover the law of gravity. Kepler was nearly blind from a smallpox epidemic when he was three, and he developed the first eyeglass designs for nearsightedness and farsightedness. He was also the first to explain that the tides are caused by the moon, the first to propose that the sun rotates on an axis, and the first to use planetary cycles to calculate the year of the birth of Jesus Christ.

It was on this day in 1831 that Charles Darwin (books by this author) set sail from England on the HMS Beagle. Darwin's biology professor had recommended that he go on the upcoming voyage touring the Galapagos Islands and South America, but his father was against the dangerous trip. Darwin went anyway, and he explored the rainforests and was amazed by the plants and animals that he found. He returned to England, and he thought about what he had seen and developed his theory of evolution. In his book On the Origin of Species (1859), he wrote, "Probably all organic beings which have ever lived on this earth have descended from some one primordial form, into which life was first breathed. There is grandeur in this view of life that... from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved."

It's the birthday of the father of bacteriology, Louis Pasteur, born in Dole, France (1822), whose discoveries in germs and disease are why we now wash our hands before dinner.

It's the birthday of child psychologist and author Lee Salk, (books by this author) born in New York City (1926), who is the brother of Jonas Salk, inventor of the polio vaccine. Lee Salk was visiting the Central Park Zoo one day when he noticed that the gorilla mothers carried their babies close their hearts, and he published research about the calming effect that sound of a mother's heartbeat can have on a newborn infant. He found that mothers, both left- and right-handed, instinctively cradle their children to the left side of their chests, bringing them closer to their hearts. Salk wrote How to Raise a Human Being (1969) and What Every Child Would Like His Parents to Know (1973).

It's the birthday of author Louis Bromfield, (books by this author) born in Mansfield, Ohio (1896). When he was a senior in high school, he went to live on his grandfather's farm, and he studied agriculture in college. He eventually switched to journalism, but he kept writing about farming all his life. He served in World War I, and then wrote his first novel, The Green Bay Tree (1924), about a small farming town that's slowly becoming an industrial center. The next year, Bromfield and his family took a vacation to France, wound up staying there for 13 years, and made friends with fellow ex-patriots Edith Wharton, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Gertrude Stein. And he wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Early Autumn (1927) and The Farm (1933).

It's the birthday of novelist Wilfrid Sheed, (books by this author) born in London, England (1930). Wilfrid Sheed wrote My Life As a Fan (1993), about his love of baseball, and In Love with Daylight: A Memoir of Recovery (1995). He once said, "The American male doesn't mature until he has exhausted all other possibilities."

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