Jun. 8, 2013

Full Moon, Key West

by Elizabeth Bishop

The town is paper-white:
the moonlight is so bright.
Flake on flake
of wood and paint
the buildings faint.
The tin roofs break
into a sweat
of heavy dew
dripping steadily
down the gutters
click click.
All over town
from black gaps
in bedroom gables
from little tables
behind the shutters
big alarm clocks
tick tick.
A spider's web
glints blue, glints red,
the mirrors glisten
and the knobs on the bed.

The island starts to hum
like music in a dream.
Paper-white, drunk,
the sailors come
stumbling, fighting,
mumbling threats
in children's voices,
stopping, lighting
with pink dull fires,
in groups like hands
and fingers on
the narrow sidewalks
of cement
that carry sounds
like tampered wires,
—the long strings of
an instrument
laid on the stream,
a zither laid
upon the flood
of the glittering Gulf.

"Full Moon, Key West" by Elizabeth Bishop, from Edgar Allan Poe and the Jukebox. © Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of the world's first professor of agricultural physics, Franklin Hiram King (books by this author), born on a farm near Whitewater, Wisconsin (1848). In 1888, King was hired by the University of Wisconsin in Madison to start a department of agricultural physics.

His most famous legacy from his years at Madison was the invention of the cylindrical silo. He was always looking for ways to reduce waste in farming, and he was struck by how much silage rotted in the corners of traditional rectangular silos. So he invented a cylindrical silo, which quickly became the standard for farmers across the country, transforming the rural landscape. Frank Lloyd Wright is said to have based his design for the Guggenheim Museum on King's idea.

Mark Twain (books by this author) took a famous ride on this day in 1867. He boarded the side-wheel steamer "The Quaker City" and set off on a five-month trip to Europe and the Mediterranean. This had never been done before — a transatlantic pleasure cruise on a steamship — and when Twain heard about the idea, he asked the San Francisco newspaper the Alta-California if they wanted to send him as their correspondent. They did, for $1,200 passage money and $20 for each letter he sent home. Those letters made him famous, and in 1868, he published them in a book called Innocents Abroad, or The New Pilgrims' Progress, the most popular travel book of his time.

In Innocents Abroad, he wrote: "We wish to learn all the curious, outlandish ways of all the different countries, so that we can 'show off' and astonish people when we get home. We wish to excite the envy of our untraveled friends with our strange foreign fashions which we can't shake off. All our passengers are paying strict attention to this thing, with the end in view which I have mentioned. The gentle reader will never, never know what a consummate ass he can become, until he goes abroad."

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




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