Jan. 11, 2009

My Son, Under the Waterfall

by Alan Michael Parker

The weight of what falls surprises, the solidity of
the slapping water, its constant and different pressures,

the way when you're thirteen everything seems
not to have happened, life itself, and yet be

dumped upon you, and you can spread wide
your arms, wide as the rest of July, and still

be filled with feeling while holding nothing,
like a movie screen, or the voice of the girl

who called on a Friday to ask about the homework.
Moss slimes the rocks, cattails rim the pools,

and the water rushing to arrive through the cut
feels like sunlight on your skin if only sunlight

would have mass and volume and pound
your head and shoulders, and with your mouth open

breathing is like laughing and laughing
is like breathing, and the surprise persists,

the sense of being between elements and standing up
in your swim trunks and sandals as though

on land and swimming at once,
and your resolve also matters, to keep hold

of these feelings, of each single feeling
no matter the future, to stay true to what you feel

and not to give the next kid a turn, the long line of
campers beginning to chant your name, and you

pretend not to hear, deafened by the lovely
crushing of the water on your head.

"My Son, Under the Waterfall" by Alan Michael Parker, from Elephants and Butterflies. © BOA Editions, 2008. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of man on the $10 bill, Alexander Hamilton, born in the British West Indies in 1755. He set up the national treasury, the national bank, the first budgetary and tax systems, and wrote the majority of the Federalist Papers, the foundation for the U.S. Constitution.

It's the birthday of the psychologist and philosopher William James, (books by this author) born in New York City in 1842. He wrote a psychology textbook, The Principles of Psychology (1890), which was read all over the world. But today he is best remembered for a concept he introduced in that textbook that he called "a stream of consciousness."

It's the birthday of the writer and environmentalist Aldo Leopold, (books by this author) born on this day in 1887 in Burlington, Iowa. Aldo grew up in a big family, lived on a 300-acre estate with a lot of his relatives. The whole family spoke German together and worked in the gardens and orchards on their property, where he learned about plants and soil.

After he graduated from Yale, he went to work for the U.S. Forest Service, which had been created just a few years earlier by Theodore Roosevelt. He worked on surveying and drawing maps. After 19 years in the Forest Service, he became the Professor of Game Management at the University of Wisconsin. He bought a piece of land on the Wisconsin River, and there he wrote many of the essays for which he is now famous.

He was collecting his essays into a book. But at the age of 60, helping to fight a grass fire, he suddenly lay down and died of a heart attack. His children put the book together, and in 1949 A Sand County Almanac was published. It's still considered one of the most important texts of the conservation movement.

Aldo Leopold said, "There can be no doubt that a society rooted in the soil is more stable than one rooted in pavements."

It's the birthday of the novelist Alan Paton, (books by this author) born in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, in 1903. He became a teacher and transformed a reformatory in Johannesburg from a prison into an educational institution. He went on an international tour to learn about penal systems, and he wrote Cry, the Beloved Country in hotel rooms and on board ships. He started it in Trondhjem, Norway, and finished it in San Francisco. It was published in 1948, and it became an international best-seller.

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