Friday

Nov. 5, 2010

Coming

by Kenneth Rexroth

You are driving to the airport
Along the glittering highway
Through the warm night,
Humming to yourself.
The yellow rose buds that stood
On the commode faded and fell
Two days ago. Last night the
Petals dropped from the tulips
On the dresser. The signs of
Your presence are leaving the
House one by one. Being without
You was almost more than I
Could bear. Now the work is squared
Away. All the arrangements
Have been made. All the delays
Are past and I am thirty
Thousand feet in the air over
A dark lustrous sea, under
A low half moon that makes the wings
Gleam like fish under water
Rushing south four hundred miles
Down the California coast
To your curving lips and your
Ivory thighs.

"Coming" by Kenneth Rexroth, from Complete Poems. © Copper Canyon Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of writer and activist Vandana Shiva, (books by this author) born in Dehradun, India (1952). As a kid, she came home from boarding school and told her parents that she needed a nylon dress, because all the rich girls she went to school with had them. Her mother said: "If that is what you want, of course you shall have it. But remember, your nylon frock will help a rich man buy a bigger car. And the cotton that you wear will buy a poor family at least one meal." She gave up on the idea of nylon.

Growing up, her hero was Albert Einstein, even though she went to school at a convent that didn't even teach science or math. She taught herself, and ended up at a Canadian university, where she got a Ph.D. in theoretical physics — her dissertation topic was "Hidden Variables and Non-locality in Quantum Theory." She was all set to stay in Canada and become an academic. But she said: "There is a question in my mind. We have the third-biggest scientific community in the world. We are among the poorest of countries. Science and technology is supposed to create growth, remove poverty. Where is the gap? Why is science and technology not removing poverty?" So she decided to take three years off, go back to India and learn more about the society and culture that produced her, and then come back to teach.

As she started learning about some of the technology in India, she saw how much it was connected to power structures and resources. She moved more and more into environmental work. She was horrified by the news of Indian farmers committing suicide after their crops failed, and she started advocating for saving seeds, promoting diversity of crops and local food movements. She set up a big organic farm and training center in the foothills of the Himalayas, where she grew up.

She said, "You are not Atlas carrying the world on your shoulder. It is good to remember that the planet is carrying you."

She is the author of about 20 books, including The Violence of the Green Revolution (1992), Monocultures of the Mind (1993), Water Wars (2002), Earth Democracy (2005), and most recently, Soil Not Oil (2008).

It's the birthday of playwright Sam Shepard, (books by this author) born in Fort Sheridan, Illinois (1943). His dad flew a bomber for the Air Force during World War II, and the family moved around a lot, finally settling for a while on an avocado ranch in Duarte, California. And it was there, surrounded by farms and trailer parks and tenement camps, ranchers and migrant laborers, that Shepard said, "It was in this place that I first began to smell the real adventure of my life."

But he left after one of his father's drunken bouts — his dad ripped the door off of their house after his mom locked him out. Sam took everything he owned, put it in his car, and left. He ended up in a traveling theater troupe on the East Coast, and he said: "We crisscrossed New England, up into Maine and Vermont. The country amazed me, having come from a place that was brown and hot and covered with taco stands. Finally we hit New York City and I couldn't believe it. I'd always thought of the 'big city' as Pasadena and the Rose Parade. I was mesmerized by this place." So he got a job as a busboy, and the head waiter at the restaurant was Ralph Cook, founder of Theatre Genesis, an off-off-Broadway theater doing experimental work. They needed some new one-acts, so Cook encouraged the enthusiastic busboy to submit work, and Shepard wrote play after play, sometimes writing an entire play in one sitting. In 1964, his first plays were produced, Cowboys and The Rock Garden, at a church in the East Village, St.-Marks-In-The-Bowery. Sam Shepard was 20 years old.

He has written more than 40 plays, including Buried Child (1978), which won the Pulitzer Prize, True West (1980), A Lie of the Mind (1985), and most recently, Ages of the Moon (2009). His early plays tended to be much longer — A Lie of the Mind was six hours long. Now they average about 90 minutes. He said, "I've come to feel that if I can't make something happen in under an hour and a half, it's not going to happen in a compelling way in a three-hour play." He is also an actor and director, and this year he published a collection of short stories, Day Out of Days (2010).

He writes on a typewriter and refuses to do any research online. He said, "The things that I wonder about most are not on the Internet, I promise you that."

He said, "I've been in a few rodeos, and the first team roping that I won gave me more of a feeling of accomplishment and pride of achievement than I ever got winning the Pulitzer Prize."

It was on this day in 1872 that Susan B. Anthony voted, almost 50 years before the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote. Four days earlier, Anthony and three of her sisters had gone to a voter registration office in a barbershop and demanded to register. She had followed all of the protocol, including spending the 30 days prior to the election in the district where she planned to vote.

There were three young men serving as the voting registrars, and Anthony announced her intention to vote. She quoted from the Constitution and the recently passed 14th Amendment, which guaranteed voting rights to all men, regardless of race, and which began: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law, nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." In her thinking, women were citizens too, and so they shouldn't be denied the right to vote.

The men were not impressed with this argument. They were much more impressed when she announced: "If you refuse us our rights as citizens, I will bring charges against you in Criminal Court and I will sue each of you personally for large, exemplary damages! I know I can win. I have Judge Selden as a lawyer. There is any amount of money to back me, and if I have to, I will push to the 'last ditch' in both courts." They didn't know what to do, but finally agreed to let the women register, figuring that it would take the matter out of their hands.

So on this day in 1872, Susan B. Anthony voted, supporting the politicians that she thought were most sympathetic to the cause of women's suffrage.

On November 18th, a young man, a deputy marshal, came to her door and arrested her. She said later: "In the car he took out his pocketbook to pay fare. I asked if he did that in his official capacity. He said yes; he was obliged to pay the fare of any criminal he arrested. Well, that was the first cents worth I ever had from Uncle Sam."

She finally had a full trial in June of 1873, for which occasion she got a new bonnet trimmed in blue silk. The courtroom was packed. Anthony had a great lawyer, Henry Selden, who was confident of his ability to win her case. He argued: "If the same act had been done by her brother under the same circumstances, the act would have been not only innocent, but honorable and laudable; but having been done by a woman it is said to be a crime. The crime therefore consists not in the act done, but in the simple fact that the person doing it was a woman and not a man. I believe this is the first instance in which a woman has been arraigned in a criminal court, merely on account of her sex." He argued that the 14th Amendment should guarantee her the right to vote, and finally pointed out that even if it didn't, she had believed that it did, and therefore was not breaking the law.

But the judge, Ward Hunt, had pre-decided the case. Anthony described him as "a small-brained, pale-faced, prim-looking man, enveloped in a faultless black suit and a snowy white tie." He refused to let Anthony be called as a witness in her own defense. After the prosecution's final response, Judge Hunt pulled out a piece of paper that he had already written up and read aloud his opinion, which was that she had broken the law. He concluded: "Upon this evidence I suppose there is no question for the jury and that the jury should be directed to find a verdict of guilty." The clerk entered a verdict of guilty, and the jury never got to deliberate the case, never got a chance to talk at all. Hunt claimed that he had the right to do that, because, he said, a trial by jury "exists only in respect of a disputed fact." In his opinion, there was nothing disputed about this trial.

Susan B. Anthony lost the trial, and although she continued to campaign for women's suffrage, she died in 1906. Thirteen years later, women were finally able to vote legally.

From the archives:

On this day in 1930, a Swedish newspaper reporter telephoned Sinclair Lewis (books by this author) to tell him that he had won the Nobel Prize in literature. Lewis thought it was a practical joke and began to imitate the man's accent. But it was not a joke: Lewis was, in fact, the first American to win the Nobel Prize in literature. He wasn't sure he deserved it and told a friend at the time, "This is the end of me ... I cannot live up to it." He used his Nobel lecture to talk about all the other writers that might have been chosen: Theodore Dreiser, Sherwood Anderson, Eugene O'Neill, and Willa Cather; and he ended the lecture by mentioning the younger writers he considered the future of American literature, including Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner, each of whom had just published their first few books. Lewis said, "Young Americans ... are doing such passionate and authentic work that it makes me sick to see that I am a little too old to be one of them."

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