Friday

May 23, 2014

French Chocolates

by Ellen Bass

If you have your health, you have everything
is something that's said to cheer you up
when you come home early and find your lover
arched over a stranger in a scarlet thong.

Or it could be you lose your job at Happy Nails
because you can't stop smudging the stars
on those ten teeny American flags.

I don't begrudge you your extravagant vitality.
May it blossom like a cherry tree. May the petals
of your cardiovascular excellence
and the accordion polka of your lungs
sweeten the mornings of your loneliness.

But for the ill, for you with nerves that fire
like a rusted-out burner on an old barbecue,
with bones brittle as spun sugar,
with a migraine hammering like a blacksmith

in the flaming forge of your skull,
may you be spared from friends who say,
God doesn't give you more than you can handle
and ask what gifts being sick has brought you.

May they just keep their mouths shut
and give you French chocolates and daffodils
and maybe a small, original Matisse,
say, Open Window, Collioure, so you can look out
at the boats floating on the dappled pink water.

"French Chocolates" by Ellen Bass from Like a Beggar. © Copper Canyon Press, 2014. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today is the birthday of poet Jane Kenyon (books by this author), born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1947. She was married to fellow poet Donald Hall, and in 1975 they moved to his ancestral home in New Hampshire, where she would write in the mornings and garden in the afternoons. Her poems were about rural New England life, and they were about depression, which she battled all her life. She told Bill Moyers: "It's odd but true that there really is consolation from sad poems, and it's hard to know how that happens. There is the pleasure of the thing itself, the pleasure of the poem, and somehow it works against sadness."

She only published four books of poetry and a volume of translation before her untimely death from leukemia at the age of 47.

Today is the birthday of the author of the classic children's book Goodnight Moon: Margaret Wise Brown (books by this author), born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1910. Brownie, as she was known to her friends, had a revolutionary idea about children's stories: Kids would rather read about things from their own world than fairy tales and fables.

She was a lovely green-eyed blonde, extravagant and a little eccentric; with her first royalty check, she bought a street vendor's entire cart full of flowers, and then threw a party at her Upper East Side apartment to show off her purchase. She was a prolific author, writing nearly a hundred picture books under several pen names and sometimes keeping six different publishers busy at once with her projects. She was known to produce a book just so she could buy a plane ticket to Europe.

At one time, she dated Juan Carlos, Prince of Spain, and she had a long-term relationship with Michael Strange, John Barrymore's ex-wife. When she was 42, she met James Stillman Rockefeller Jr., who was 26, at a party and they hit it off immediately. They had a similar whimsical take on life, and were engaged to be married when she died suddenly; she had had surgery a few weeks before, and was kicking up her leg like a can-can dancer to show her doctor how well she felt. The kick dislodged a blood clot that was in her leg, and the clot traveled to her heart, killing her.

She never had children of her own, but she left the royalties for most of her books to a nine-year-old neighbor boy, Albert Clarke. Her estate was once worth a few hundred dollars, and now amounts to about $5 million — or rather, it would, had Clarke not squandered the inheritance, spending his life in and out of jail, throwing away clothes when they get dirty, and making a succession of bad real estate deals.

She said, "A good picture book can almost be whistled. ... All have their own melodies behind the storytelling."

It's the birthday of Edward Norton Lorenz, born in West Hartford, Connecticut, in 1917. He started out as a mathematician, but turned to meteorology during World War II. In an attempt to explain why it's so difficult to make a long-range weather forecast, he spawned chaos theory, one of the 20th century's most revolutionary scientific ideas.

Chaos theory is sometimes known as "the butterfly effect," a term coined by Lorenz in an attempt to explain how small actions in a dynamic system like the atmosphere could trigger vast and unexpected changes. He discovered the effect in the early 1960s while entering values into a computer weather prediction program; instead of entering the number to the full six decimal places, he rounded it to three to save time, and the resulting weather pattern was completely different. He first framed it as the effect a seagull's wing has on the formation of a hurricane, but he changed it to the more poetic butterfly in his 1972 presentation, "Does the flap of a butterfly's wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?"

Though the term dates back to 1972, the concept actually predates Lorenz's discovery. Science fiction writers had been playing around with the idea for several years in their time-travel stories: Usually the hero goes back in time and makes some seemingly insignificant choice that ends up changing the course of history.

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

 









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