Jun. 17, 2010
Sometimes I'm Bobby Short
at the Carlyle Hotel where fur-tipped
women trip in from the cold
on the thick padded arms of their men.
They sparkle with new snow
and old money. But it's me
they want to see. Leaning
into the keys, I play Autumn in New York,
Misty and I've Got You Under My Skin.
The golden women tilt their heads
with a faraway look in their eyes,
and run jeweled fingers tenderly
over crystal champagne rims.
I launch into You do Something to Me
and they raise their glasses
Sometimes I'm back
in that huge green ballroom
with the white doors
over the restaurant on High Street.
It's late spring – recital time –
and I'm supposed to practice my solo
here for 45 minutes. It's hot
so I'm thinking about the community pool, not
the Mazurka from Les Sylphides, and how
I'll ask my mother to drop me off there
after lunch. But then Stephanie Woodruff
from homeroom steps in the white door.
"Oh that's so pretty," she says, "Don't stop playing."
And she executes a little faux mazurka step
around the room, laughing –
and I laugh too and play it faster
and better than I ever have.
And she keeps dancing and I keep playing
and this is how I learn
whatever it is I know about art
and everything I know
I'm my Dad's old friend, Morty Ackerman
from Albany, who finally got tired
of hauling his combo from one
snowed-in lounge to another,
and took a job at a nudist colony
outside Sarasota. He said clothing
was optional for the staff and the talent.
He usually wore Bermuda shorts and a bow tie.
But on New Year's Eve, the story went,
just his "white tie and tail."
He claimed the ladies didn't wait
to be asked onto the dance floor—they just drifted
up there by themselves, dipping and twirling
like nymphs around the Steinway. He said
he played like some kind of crazed piano god.
He said they danced
right into January.
It's the birthday of graphic artist M.C. Escher, (books by this author) born in Leeuwarden, Netherlands (1898), best known for his drawings that contain tessellations, or interlocking shapes. His work is sometimes featured on men's suit neckties. He said, "Are you really sure that a floor can't also be a ceiling?"
It's the birthday of poet Ron Padgett, (books by this author) born in Tulsa, Oklahoma (1942). He went to Columbia University, just like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, who had made a big impression on him, and he became a poet.
It's the birthday of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist John Hersey, (books by this author) born to American missionaries in Tientsin, China (1914), who spoke Chinese before he spoke English, moved to the States when he was 10, and graduated from Yale. After college, he spent a summer as a secretary for writer Sinclair Lewis, then he went to work for Time magazine, reporting on World War II from all over Europe and Asia.
He wrote more than a dozen books, but he's best known for his 31,000-word nonfiction piece "Hiroshima," which appeared in The New Yorker magazine on August 31, 1946. The cover of the late-summer magazine issue featured a cheerful picnic with people sunbathing, strumming mandolins, dancing, playing croquet and tennis. Then, readers opened to the "Talk of the Town" page to find the beginning of Hersey's voluminous essay and this note from The Editors:
"TO OUR READERS. The New Yorker this week devotes its entire editorial space to an article on the almost complete obliteration of a city by one atomic bomb, and what happened to the people of that city [...]"
John Hersey's Hiroshima begins:
"At exactly fifteen minutes past eight in the morning on August 6, 1945, Japanese time, at the moment when the atomic bomb flashed above Hiroshima, Miss Toshiko Sasaki, a clerk in the personnel department of the East Asia Tin Works, had just sat down at her place in the plant office and was turning her head to speak to the girl at the next desk."
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®