Feb. 16, 2002

Not Only the Eskimos

by Lisel Mueller

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Poem: "Not Only The Eskimos," by Liesel Mueller from Alive Together (Louisiana State University Press).

Not Only The Eskimos

We have only one noun
but as many different kinds:

the grainy snow of the Puritans
and snow of soft, fat flakes,

guerrilla snow, which comes in the night
and changes the world by morning,

rabbinical snow, a permanent skullcap
on the highest mountains,

snow that blows in like the Lone Ranger,
riding hard from out of the West,

surreal snow in the Dakotas,
when you can't find your house, your street,
though you are not in a dream
or a science-fiction movie,

snow that tastes good to the sun
when it licks black tree limbs,
leaving us only one white stripe,
a replica of a skunk,

unbelievable snows:
the blizzard that strikes on the tenth of April,
the false snow before Indian summer,
the Big Snow on Mozart's birthday,
when Chicago became the Elysian fields
and strangers spoke to each other,

paper snow, cut and taped
to the inside of grade-school windows,

in an old tale, the snow
that covers a nest of strawberries,
small hearts, ripe and sweet,

the special snow that goes with Christmas,
whether it falls or not,

the Russian snow we remember
along with the warmth and smell of our furs,
though we have never traveled
to Russia or worn furs,

Villon's snows of yesteryear,
lost with ladies gone out like matches,
the snow in Joyce's "The Dead,"
the silent, secret snow
in a story by Conrad Aiken,
which is the snow of first love,

the snowfall between the child
and the spacewoman on TV,

snow as idea of whiteness,
as in snowdrop, snow goose, snowball bush,

the snow that puts stars in your hair,
and your hair, which has turned to snow,

the snow Elinor Wylie walked in
in velvet shoes,

the snow before her footprints
and the snow after,

the snow in the back of our heads,
whiter than white, which has to do
with childhood again each year.

On this day in 1959, Fidel Castro took over as the Prime Minister of Cuba. The son of a wealthy sugar cane farmer, Castro had practiced law in Havana, but then, disgusted with the status quo, entered politics as a member of the Cuban People's Party. After ousting dictator Fulgencio Batista, Castro invited the wrath of the United States by nationalizing all the sugar plantations-many of which were owned by absentee landlords in the U.S.A.

It's the birthday of novelist Richard Ford, born in Jackson, Mississippi (1944). His first novel, A Piece of My Heart (1976) follows the journeys of two men to their southern homes. In the early 1980s, Ford took a break from writing fiction to work as a writer for Inside Sports-an experience that shaped his novel The Sportswriter (1986), and its Pulitzer Prize-winning sequel, Independence Day (1995).

On this day in 1923, British archeologist Howard Carter, with British antiquarian George Herbert (also known as Lord Carnarvon), uncovered King Tut's Tomb. Once inside the pharaoh's burial chamber, they found heaps of jewels, four golden chariots, and ornaments of ivory, ebony and other precious metals, most of which went to the Cairo Museum.

It's the birthday of historian Henry Adams, born in Boston (1838), the great-grandson of President John Adams. He worked as secretary to his congressman father, who served as the American ambassador to Britain during the Civil War. In 1868, he settled in Washington, D.C., and wrote reform-minded essays for The Nation. He also wrote a nine-volume History of the United States of America from 1801 to 1817. But his autobiography, The Education of Henry Adams (1918), is considered his greatest achievement.

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