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Poem: "A Lecture on Aphids," by Charles Goodrich from Insects of South Corvallis (Knot House).

A Lecture on Aphids

She plucks my sleeve.
"Young man," she says, "you need to spray.
You have aphids on your roses."

In a dark serge coat and a pill box hat
by god it's my third grade Sunday school teacher,
shrunken but still stern, the town's
most successful corporate attorney's mother.
She doesn't remember me. I holster
my secateurs, smile publicly,
and reply, "Ma'am,

did you know a female aphid is born
carrying fertile eggs? Come look.
There may be five or six generations
cheek by jowl on this "Peace" bud.
Don't they remind you
of refugees
crowding the deck of a tramp steamer?
Look through my hand lens-
they're translucent. You can see their dark innards
like kidneys in aspic.

Yes, ma'am, they are full-time inebriates,
and unashamed of their nakedness.
But isn't there something wild and uplifting
about their complete indifference to the human prospect?"

And then I do something wicked. "Ma'am," I say,
"I love aphids!" And I squeeze
a few dozen from the nearest bud
and eat them.

After the old woman scuttles away
I feel ill
and sit down to consider
what comes next. You see,
aren't sweet
as I had always imagined.
Even though rose wine is their only food,
are bitter.

It's the birthday of poet J.D. McClatchy, born in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, in 1945. He is the author of the essay collection Twenty Questions, and a book of poems called Ten Commandments.

It's the birthday in New York City, in 1940, of writer Gail Parent, the author of comic novels like The Best Laid Plans (1980), and Sheila Levine Is Dead and Living in New York (1972). Besides her novels, Parent was a comedy writer for The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and the mother of two sons. She says: "Having children kept me normal, because I was never able to go off and celebrate joyously over something for a week or do what I feel like, nor did I allow myself to dwell on unhappiness when something went wrong. You can't do that when you have children, and I attribute my sanity to having them."

The Wizard of Oz was premiered on this day in 1939 at a theater in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. Virtually nobody in the national press noticed, so the so-called official premiere was held three days later at Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood.

It's the birthday in Chicago, 1931, of novelist and screenwriter William Goldman, who wrote Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and All the President's Men.

It's the birthday of novelist Wallace Markfield, in Brooklyn, in 1926. He's best remembered for his 1970 comic novel, Teitlebaum's Window.

It's the birthday, in Hillisburg, Indiana, of Zerna Sharp, born in 1889. She was the originator of the Dick and Jane readers for children, which introduced only one new word on each page.

It was on this day in 1877 that Thomas Alva Edison, working in his Menlo Park, New Jersey, lab, completed the model for the first phonograph, a device that recorded sound onto tin-foil cylinders.

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Poem: "Summer Storm," by Dana Gioia and used with the author's permission.

Summer Storm

We stood on the rented patio
While the party went on inside.
You knew the groom from college.
I was a friend of the bride.

We hugged the brownstone wall behind us
To keep our dress clothes dry
And watched the sudden summer storm
Floodlit against the sky.

The rain was like a waterfall
Of brilliant beaded light,
Cool and silent as the stars
The storm hid from the night.

To my surprise, you took my arm-
A gesture you didn't explain-
And we spoke in whispers, as if we two
Might imitate the rain.

Then suddenly the storm receded
As swiftly as it came.
The doors behind us opened up.
The hostess called your name.

I watched you merge into the group,
Aloof and yet polite.
We didn't speak another word
Except to say goodnight.

Why does that evening's memory
Return with this night's storm-
A party twenty years ago,
Its disappointments warm?

There are so many might have beens,
What ifs that won't stay buried,
Other cities, other jobs,
Strangers we might have married.

And memory insists on pining
For places it never went,
As if life would be happier
Just by being different.

Construction of the Berlin Wall began in the early hours of August 13, 1961. The communist East German government built it to stem the flood of people moving to the West-about 2 million since WWII ended. By the time it fell in 1989, it was a 15-foot-high wall running 28 miles through the middle of Berlin, topped with barbed wire and guarded with watchtowers and mines. Another set of walls ran 75 miles around West Berlin, separating it from the rest of East Germany.

On August 13, 1942, Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin wrote to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, begging them to reverse their decision and to invade western Europe. Stalin's beleaguered Russian army had been contending with a German invasion for over a year. It wasn't until two years later, on D-Day, that a million Allied soldiers flooded into France.

It's the birthday in London, 1899, of director Alfred Hitchcock. He went to school to become an engineer, but got a job in 1920 with a London film company writing out titles. He got his first shot at directing in 1925 and later moved to Hollywood. Within a year his film Rebecca had won an Oscar for best picture.

It's the birthday in 1818, West Brookfield, Massachusetts, of the abolitionist and women's suffrage pioneer Lucy Stone. She paid her own way through Oberlin College, and then went on the lecture circuit arguing against slavery and for women's rights. In December 1858, in Orange, New Jersey, she refused to pay her taxes because women didn't have the right to vote.

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Poem: Sonnet 109, "O, never say that I was false of heart," by William Shakespeare.

O, never say that I was false of heart

O, never say that I was false of heart,
Though absence seemed my flame to qualify.
As easy might I from myself depart
As from my soul, which in thy breast doth lie.
That is my home of love; if I have ranged,
Like him that travels, I return again,
Just to the time, not with the time exchanged,
So that myself bring water for my stain.
Never believe, though in my nature reigned
All frailties that besiege all kinds of blood,
That it could so preposterously be stained
To leave for nothing all thy sum of good;
          For nothing this wide universe I call
          Save thou, my Rose; in it thou art my all.

On this day in 1945, the electric sign in Times Square in New York flashed the news: "Truman announces Japanese surrender." It was V-J Day-victory in Japan. Within three hours, the Times Square area was mobbed with two million people celebrating the end of WWII. During the spring and summer of 1945, the Japanese home islands had come under intense bombing attacks, including a massive fire-bomb raid in March that killed between 80,000 and 90,000 people in 16 square miles of Tokyo. Even through the 9th of August, when the second atomic bomb was dropped-on Nagasaki-Japanese leaders, lacking assurances they could keep their emperor, rejected the Allies' demand for an unconditional surrender. But the night after the Nagasaki blast, at an emergency meeting in Tokyo, Emperor Hirohito said, "I cannot bear to see my innocent people suffer any longer." The Japanese surrender was arranged within days. The Allies agreed that Hirohito could stay on as emperor, but that his authority would be subject to the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers.

It's the birthday of cartoonist Gary Larson, born in Tacoma, Washington (1950), who created "The Far Side." He drew the strip first for the Seattle Times, under the title "Nature's Way." It was canceled after complaints from readers, but was later picked up by the San Francisco Chronicle.

It's the birthday of actor, comedian and playwright Steve Martin, born in Waco, Texas (1945). When his family moved to California, he found part-time work at Disneyland, where he sold guidebooks, magic tricks, and Frontierland rodeo ropes. He left that to perform his comedy routines, featuring a banjo. Next he spent three years studying philosophy at Long Beach State, until he came up against Ludwig Wittgenstein's claim that nothing was absolutely true. Martin decided that "the only logical thing was comedy, because you don't have to explain it or justify it." He became a comedy writer, writing for the Smothers Brothers, Glen Campbell, Sonny and Cher, and others. He then tried stand-up comedy and appeared on Saturday Night Live, which made his name. Besides starring in such comedy films as The Jerk (1979), Three Amigos! (1986), and Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (1987), he has done serious theater work-Waiting for Godot (1988)-and has written a number of plays, including Picasso at the Lapin Agile (1996) and Wasp (1998).

It's the birthday of columnist Russell Baker, born in Loudon County, Virginia (1925). For many years he wrote the "Observer" column in the op-ed pages of the New York Times; today he is better known as the host of the PBS television series Masterpiece Theater, where he has appeared since 1993. His books include the memoirs Growing Up (1982) and The Good Times (1989).

It's the birthday of novelist and playwright John Galsworthy, born at Kingston Hill, Surrey (1867). Today he's best known for his series of novels The Forsyte Saga (1906-1928).

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Poem: "The Iceberg Theory," by Gerald Locklin from The Iceberg Theory (The Lummox Press).

The Iceberg Theory

all the food critics hate iceberg lettuce.
you'd think romaine was descended from
orpheus's laurel wreath,
you'd think raw spinach had all the nutritional
benefits attributed to it by popeye,
not to mention aesthetic subtleties worthy of
veriaine and debussy.
they'll even salivate over chopped red cabbage
just to disparage poor old mr. iceberg lettuce.

I guess the problem is
it's just too common for them.
It doesn't matter that it tastes good,
has a satisfying crunchy texture,
holds its freshness
and has crevices for the dressing,
whereas the darker, leafier varieties
are often bitter, gritty, and flat.
It just isn't different enough and
it's too goddamn american.

of course a critic has to criticize;
a critic has to have something to say
perhaps that's why literary critics
purport to find interesting
so much contemporary poetry
that just bores the shit out of me.

at any rate, I really enjoy a salad
with plenty of chunky iceberg lettuce,
the more the merrier,
drenched in an Italian or roquefort dressing.
and the poems I enjoy are those I don't have
to pretend that I'm enjoying.

Today is celebrated as the Feast of the Assumption, a holy day of obligation for Catholics. The celebration of Mary being taken, body and soul, into heaven has been observed since the 7th century in Rome.

On this day in 1947, the Indian sub-continent won independence from Britain after being a colony for 200 years. Mohandas Gandhi, one of the most vehement champions of independence, declared his life a failure because India could not govern itself as one state but gave in to division-one nation primarily for Hindus (India), and another for Muslims (Pakistan).

It's the birthday of Julia Child, born in Pasadena, California (1912). She joined the O.S.S. during WWII, where she met Paul Child, who became her husband. He was an enthusiastic gourmet, and got her interested in foreign food. They were posted to Paris, where it was his interest in French food that prompted her to learn how to prepare it. She took classes at the Cordon Bleu cooking school, then studied privately with chef Max Bugnard. With two friends, chefs Simone Beck and Louise Bertholle, she set up a cooking school called L'École des Trois Gourmandes, and wrote the best-selling book Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1961).

It's the birthday of "Lawrence of Arabia," T(homas) E(dward) Lawrence, born in Tremadoc, North Wales (1888). He wrote Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1926), "the last great romantic war book," shortly after WWI, describing the Arab revolt and his glorious part in it.

It's the birthday of novelist Edna Ferber, born in Kalamazoo, Michigan (1887). She wrote sprawling sagas: So Big (1924-Pulitzer Prize winner); Show Boat (1926), which was made into a hugely popular musical; and Giant (1952). Edna Ferber said, "A woman can look both moral and exciting, if she also looks as if it were quite a struggle."

It's the birthday of novelist Sir Walter Scott, born in Edinburgh (1771), credited with inventing the historical novel. He began by writing narrative poems such as "The Lady of the Lake" (1810), then tried novels, starting with Waverley, which he published anonymously for fear of staining his "literary" reputation. When Waverley proved a sensation, he followed it, under his own name, with Rob Roy (1818), Ivanhoe (1819), and many more. "But no one shall find me rowing against the stream .… I care not who knows it-I write for the general amusement."

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Poem: "Reunion," by Robert Kinsley from Endangered Species (Orchises Press).


Here past the edge of town,
this one as well as any other
in the Adirondacks, the trees lock arms
and lean into each other like
relatives at a family reunion.
This is some history; listen to the names,
Sugar Maple, Black Spruce, Wild Cherry,
Sweet Birch, the old White Oaks. On and
on into the hillsides until my tongue rolls
and I whisper Ohio, imagining this is what it was
one hundred years ago, imagining this is what
whispered in the ear of Tecumseh, who fought for it
for twenty years, knowing when he started he couldn't
win, but who fought and lost anyway, imagining
this is what whispered to my great grandfather
Marvin Peabody, when he dropped down out of the
Northeast. Who left when he heard his neighbors
unfolding the arms of trees with axes and bucksaws
and headed west, rubbing the fine dust from his eyes.
But came back when he saw that like Ohio, that too
was lost. He came back I suppose because he had
nowhere else to go. Or maybe he just liked the name
Ohio. And why not. Whisper it now, whisper
Ohio, Ohio, Ohio, and amid the miles of concrete,
under the culverts dumping waste, around the smokestacks
over by the river, a breeze picks up
sending a ripple, like a litany
through the family of tree.

Gold was discovered in Alaska on this day in 1896. Three men found the gold in a little tributary off the Klondike River named Rabbit Creek. They said it laid "thick between the flaky slabs like cheese sandwiches." The discovery opened up the great Klondike Gold Rush. Discovery Day is celebrated every year in the Yukon.

It's the birthday in Salt Lake City, 1902, of writer Wallace Thurman. He moved to Harlem in 1925, and joined writers like Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston in what later came to be called the Harlem Renaissance.

It's William Maxwell's birthday, the novelist and short story writer, born in 1908, in the central Illinois town of Lincoln. His mother died in the worldwide 1918 flu epidemic, and Maxwell moved to Chicago with his family. After college he went to New York, and it was there that he became a fiction editor at The New Yorker. Maxwell stayed for 40 years (1936-1976) and edited John Cheever, Vladimir Nabokov, Mary McCarthy, Eudora Welty, and dozens of others who wrote for the magazine. He also published about 20 books of his own, including They Came Like Swallows; The Folded Leaf; and So Long, See You Tomorrow.

It's the birthday of the prolific children's author, Beatrice Schenk de Regniers, 1914, Lafayette, Indiana, author of nearly 50 books for kids, including May I Bring a Friend, which won the 1965 Caldecott Award.

Today is the birthday of the writer Charles Bukowski (1920). He was born in Germany, the son of a US soldier and a German woman, and grew up in Los Angeles. He once almost drank himself to death, but returned to writing and soon published his first book of poems Flower, Fist, and Bestial Wail (1959). His other titles include Love Is a Dog From Hell (1977), Shakespeare Never Did This (1979), and Confessions of a Man Insane Enough to Live With Beasts (1965).

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Poem: "Being Christlike," by Ted Hughes from Birthday Letters (Farrar Straus Giroux).

Being Christlike

You did not want to be Christlike. Though your father
Was your God and there was no other, you did not
Want to be Christlike. Though you walked
In the love of your father. Though you stared
At the stranger of your mother.
What had she to do with you
But tempt you from your father?
When her great hooded eyes lowered
Their moon so close
Promising the earth you saw
Your fate and you cried
Get thee behind me. You did not
Want to be Christlike. You wanted
To be with your father
In wherever he was. And your body
Barred your passage. And your family
Who were your flesh and blood
Burdened it. And a god
That was not your father
Was a false god. But you did not
Want to be Christlike.

It's the birthday of novelist Sir V(idiadhar) S(urajprasad) Naipaul, born in Chaguanas, Trinidad (1932). He's the author of many novels, including A House for Mr. Biswas (1961), In a Free State (1971-Booker Prize winner), A Bend in the River (1979), and A Turn in the South (1989). He said, "I think literature should be read privately. Literature is not for the young. Literature is for the old, the experienced, the wounded, the damaged, who read literature to find echoes of their own experience and balm of a certain sort. Contented tribal societies don't need literature. They pound their yams and they're quite happy."

It's the birthday of poet Ted Hughes (Edward James Hughes), born in West Yorkshire, England (1930). He served as British Poet Laureate from 1984 until his death in 1998, the same year his final book of poems, Birthday Letters, was issued. Of those 88 poems, all but two are addressed to Sylvia Plath, his first wife. Many people condemned Hughes when Plath committed suicide after he abandoned her and their two babies during one of the coldest winters in British history. His case wasn't helped by the fact that he never spoke out in his own defense-or, incredibly, that the married woman for whom he had left Plath eventually killed herself, and the daughter she had by Hughes, in the same manner Plath had used. For years, Hughes' readings were broken up by cries of "Murderer!" from the audience. He continued to promote Plath's work, releasing the main collection on which her reputation as a poet is based-Ariel (1965)-and later edited her collected poems (1981).

It's the birthday of painter Larry Rivers, born Larry Grossberg in New York City (1923). An abstract expressionist and a predecessor of pop art, his biggest project was a 33-foot, 76-panel work titled "The History of the Russian Revolution: From Marx to Mayakowski." It took him six months to produce it. In addition to 30 paintings on canvas, it included an assemblage of boxes, silhouettes, a long poem, an honor roll of martyrs, lead pipes, wooden rifles, and a real machine gun. Rivers called it "the greatest painting-sculpture-mixed media of the 20th century, or the stupidest."

It's the birthday of actress Mae West, born in Brooklyn (1893). She said, "When I'm good I'm very good, but when I'm bad I'm better," and "Too much of a good thing can be wonderful," and "Between two evils, I always pick the one I never tried before."

It's the birthday of black nationalist leader Marcus (Moziah) Garvey, born in St. Ann's Bay, Jamaica (1887). He came to the United States and organized a black nationalist movement in Harlem. Known as the "Black Moses," by 1919 he claimed two million adherents.

It's the birthday of physician Thomas Hodgkin, born in Tottenham, Middlesex (1798)-who described, in 1832, the malignant lymph disease that bears his name: Hodgkin's Disease.

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Poem: "At a Summer Hotel-For my daughter, Rose Van Kirk," by Isabella Gardner from West of Childhood: Poems 1950-1965 (Houghton Mifflin Co.).

At a Summer Hotel-For my daughter, Rose Van Kirk

I am here with my beautiful bountiful womanful child
to be soothed by the sea not roused by these roses roving wild.
My girl is gold in the sun and bold in the dazzling water,
she drowses on the blond sand and in the daisy fields my
dreams. Uneasy in the drafty shade I rock on the veranda
reminded of Europa Persephone Miranda.

It's the birthday in 1774, Albemarle County, Virginia, of explorer Meriwether Lewis, who grew up roaming the woods just a few miles from Thomas Jefferson's Monticello. When Jefferson assumed the presidency in 1801, he made Lewis his private secretary. Two years later, Jefferson appointed Lewis to lead an exploration; together, he and William Clark led the great expedition from St. Louis, up the Missouri River, and on to the Pacific Ocean, making maps and charting the way for settlers to come. They explored the Louisiana Purchase, the vast territory the US had acquired from France in 1803. In 1804, early in the expedition, Clark wrote in his diary of August 18: "Captain Lewis' birthday: the evening was closed with an extra gill of whiskey and a Dance until 11 o'clock." Lewis wrote in his own diary: "This day I completed my thirty-first year, and conceived that I had in all human probability now existed about half the period which I am to remain in this world. I reflected that I had as yet done but little, very little, indeed, to further the happiness of the human race, or to advance the information of the succeeding generation. I viewed with regret the many hours I have spent in indolence, but since they are past and cannot be recalled, I dash from me the gloomy thought, and resolved in future to redouble my exertions to promote those two primary objects of human existence; or in future, to live for mankind, as I have heretofore lived for myself." Three years after the expedition, Lewis died in central Tennessee under mysterious circumstances; some said he was murdered, but others who knew him, like Thomas Jefferson, said he suffered from what we now know to be manic-depression, and believed he took his own life. He was 35 years old.

Adolph Ochs took over The New York Times on this day in 1896. The Times had been founded by Henry J. Raymond in 1851, and had not prospered in the time of yellow journalism.

Today is the birthday in Brest, France, of Alain Robbe Grillet (1922). He is best known for being a leading author of the nouveau roman, better known as the French "anti-novel."

t's the birthday in Chabris, France, 1932, of virologist Luc Montagnier, the discoverer of HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS.

It's the birthday in Berlin, 1934, of the American children's author, Sonia Levitin.

Today is the birthday in Washington, DC, of the children's author Paula Danziger (1944), who wrote The Cat Ate My Gymsuit.



  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
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