Dec. 14, 2009

The Tulips

by Ricky Ian Gordon

The tulips at that perfect place
crane their necks with liquid grace
like swans who circling, collide
within the lake this vase provides.

They stood like soldiers, stiff, before
as if they had been called to war.
In two days more, when petals fall,
I will entomb them in the hall

with trash; the morning's coffee grinds,
old newspapers, and lemon rinds.
It's bitter that such loveliness
should come to this,
could come to this.

But now their purpleness ignites
the room with incandescent lights.
Their stamens reach their yellow tongues
to lick the air into their lungs
through stems attached to whitish manes.
The pistil stains.

And even though there are no bees
about the room for them to please,
I take them in like honey dew-
and buzzing now,
I think of you...

I think of you who bought me these,
at least,
I wish you had,
as that might ease the ache
of passing hours.
A love is dying, like these flowers.

"The Tulips" by Ricky Ian Gordon. Used with permission of the poet.

It's the birthday of Shirley Jackson, (books by this author) born in San Francisco (1916). Her short story "The Lottery" made her famous when it came out in The New Yorker in 1948. It's a story about a small New England town where one resident is chosen by lottery each year to be stoned to death.

It was on this day in 1900 that the physicist Max Planck presented his theory of quantum mechanics to the German Physical Society. The basic idea behind quantum mechanics is that particles of light, as well as other subatomic particles, are unpredictable by nature. If you shoot them across the room, you can never predict exactly where they will end up. Max Planck died in 1947, and he never came to fully accept his own theory, which he presented on this day in 1900. But his discovery led to the development of modern electronics, including the transistor, the laser, and the computer.

It's the birthday of the man who invented the television newsmagazine 60 Minutes, Don Hewitt, born in New York City (1922). It's the longest-running prime-time show ever in the history of American television, and it's also the only news program to ever rank as the most-watched show on television — a distinction it achieved five different years. In the 1979–80 television season 60 Minutes was viewed in 28 million households every Sunday evening.

Hewitt worked as a copyboy for a New York newspaper for 15 dollars a week, then got a job with a photo agency, and then got hired away by CBS radio — since he had experience with pictures and visual layout — to help produce the new television news programming that the network was trying to launch. It was all brand-new in the 1940s, and Hewitt remembers asking them "What-avision?" He went down to Grand Central Terminal in New York and up to the top floor to take a look at these "little pictures in a box" of which people spoke. He later reminisced, "They also had cameras and lights and makeup artists and stage managers and microphone booms just like in the movies, and I was hooked." That year, in 1948, he began producing and directing an evening news broadcast for CBS, and he would later become the executive producer of the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite.

On September 24, 1968 Don Hewitt launched his investigative news magazine, 60 Minutes. He said that if his news program were to be successful and able to capture the enduring attention of viewers, he needed to figure out how to "package an hour of reality as compellingly as Hollywood packages an hour of make-believe."

Hewitt served as the executive producer of 60 Minutes until the age of 81. The current (and only second) producer of 60 Minutes is Jeff Fager. Hewitt died in August this year at the age of 86.

It's the birthday of journalist, political essayist, radical feminist and The New Yorker magazine's first pop music critic, Ellen Willis, (books by this author) born in New York City (1941). The daughter of an NYPD officer, she grew up in the Bronx and Queens, majored in English at Barnard, and then headed off to Berkeley for grad school, but didn't stay there long. The year she turned 21, she published Questions Freshmen Ask: A Guide for College Girls (1962). In the late 1960s, when she was in her late 20s, she founded the Redstockings, an influential group of radical feminists. Her husband, Stanley Aronowitz, was New York state's 2002 Green Party candidate for governor.

She's the author of the books Beginning to See the Light: Sex, Hope, and Rock-and-Roll (1981); No More Nice Girls: Countercultural Essays (1992); and Don't Think, Smile!: Notes on a Decade of Denial (1999). She wrote columns and articles regularly for Rolling Stone, The Village Voice, The Nation, Slate, Salon, and Dissent.

Ellen Willis died a few years ago from cancer. She described herself as an "anti-authoritarian democratic socialist" but also wrote, "My deepest impulses are optimistic, an attitude that seems to me as spiritually necessary and proper as it is intellectually suspect."

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




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