Jul. 17, 2013
The Swan at Edgewater Park
Isn't one of your prissy rich peoples' swans
Wouldn't be at home on some pristine pond
Chooses the whole stinking shoreline, candy wrappers, condoms
in its tidal fringe
Prefers to curve its muscular, slightly grubby neck
into the body of a Great Lake,
Swilling whatever it is swans swill,
Chardonnay of algae with bouquet of crud,
While Clevelanders walk by saying Look
at that big duck!
Beauty isn't the point here; of course
the swan is beautiful,
But not like Lorie at 16, when
Everything was possible—no
More like Lorie at 27
Smoking away her days off in her dirty kitchen,
Her kid with asthma watching TV,
The boyfriend who doesn't know yet she's gonna
Leave him, washing his car out back—and
He's a runty little guy, and drinks too much, and
It's not his kid anyway, but he loves her, he
Really does, he loves them both—
That's the kind of swan this is.
It's the birthday of composer and humorist Peter Schickele, born in Ames, Iowa (1935). He has written and arranged music for classical, jazz, folk, and rock groups, and for television and radio. But he is probably best known as P.D.Q. Bach, the fictitious son of Johann Sebastian Bach. He invented the character while studying at Juilliard, and it's under that name that he writes satirical music. P.D.Q. Bach's original operas include Hansel and Gretel and Ted and Alice (1990) and The Abduction of Figaro (1984).
It's the birthday of photographer Berenice Abbott, born in Springfield, Ohio (1898), best known for her portraits and documentary photographs of American life. She traveled to Europe in 1921 to study art and sculpture, and got a job as a darkroom assistant to the surrealist photographer Man Ray. She took to the camera herself in 1925 and opened her own portrait studio, where she photographed many of the famous literary and artistic figures of the day, including James Joyce, Peggy Guggenheim, and Jean Cocteau. Her greatest work was her documentation of New York in the 1930s. Throughout the early 1930s, Abbott photographed the architecture, historical buildings, and street life of New York City. The powerful black-and-white photographs were published in 1939 in a book called Changing New York.
It's the birthday of the comedian and actress who was once called "the funniest woman in the world": Phyllis Diller, born in Lima, Ohio (1917). She didn't start her career in stand-up comedy until she was middle-aged, after spending much of her life as a housewife. In her act, she said: "Housework can't kill you, but why take a chance?"
In her shows, she caricatured the frumpy housewife and appeared on stage with outrageous makeup and wild hair that she claimed she combed with an electric toothbrush. She routinely used a cigarette holder, though she did not smoke, and wore a fur scarf that she insisted she trapped under the kitchen sink at her home.
She appeared regularly on television and played a role in the film Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number! (1966) alongside Bob Hope, who invited her to go on his USO tour of Vietnam that same year. In 2003, she donated her "gag file" to the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History; it's a filing cabinet with 48 drawers, containing more than 50,000 individual jokes and gags typed on index cards. Diller wrote several books, including the memoir Like a Lampshade in a Whorehouse (2005). She passed away last summer at the age of 95.
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®