Mar. 13, 2002


by Jennifer Michael Hecht

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Poem: "September," by Jennifer Michael Hecht from The Next Ancient World (Tupelo Press).


Tonight there must be people who are getting what they want.
I let my oars fall into the water.
Good for them. Good for them, getting what they want.

The night is so still that I forget to breathe.
The dark air is getting colder. Birds are leaving.

Tonight there are people getting just what they need.

The air is so still that it seems to stop my heart.
I remember you in a black and white photograph
taken this time of some year. You were leaning against a half-shed tree,
standing in the leaves the tree had lost.

When I finally exhale it takes forever to be over.

Tonight, there are people who are so happy,
that they have forgotten to worry about tomorrow.

Somewhere, people have entirely forgotten about tomorrow.
My hand trails in the water.
I should not have dropped those oars. Such a soft wind.

It's the birthday of Canadian writer W.O. Mitchell, born in Weyburn, Saskatchewan (1914). He worked as a deckhand on a steamer, a farmhand and a door-to-door salesman before publishing his first novel, Who Has Seen the Wind, in 1947. The novel was immediately successful, and Mitchell quit his day job and devoted himself to writing. He moved to Toronto, where he produced three hundred and twenty scripts for a popular radio show called Jake and the Kid. He wrote for television as well, and published many novels, studies of strong and quirky characters set on the prairies of western Canada.

It's the birthday of novelist Daphne du Maurier, born in London (1907). She published romantic novels set mostly on the stormy coast of Cornwall, where she lived herself for most of her adult life. Her novel Rebecca, about a timid second wife haunted by the ghost of her predecessor, was made into a film by Alfred Hitchcock in 1940. She had a steamy wartime romance with the actress Gertrude Lawrence, but stayed married to her husband until his death in 1965.

It's the birthday of the writer Sir Hugh Walpole, born in Auckland (1884). He served with the Russian Red Cross in World War One and won the Order of St George for bravery. After the war he began writing novels and short stories, most of them drawn from his own experience. He also wrote swashbuckling romances and gothic chillers with titles like The Killer and the Slain.

On this day in 1882, Eadweard Muybridge demonstrated his zoopraxiscope for the Prince of Wales, Prime Minister Gladstone, and Alfred, Lord Tennyson at the Royal Institution in London. The machine was a primitive ancestor of the movie projector. It allowed Muybridge to combine still photographs of animal movement into continuous, flickering life.

It's the birthday of the Austrian composer Hugo Wolf, born in what is now Slovenia (1860). His greatest works, settings of German, Spanish and Italian poems, were composed in just three years, from 1888 to 1891. He devoted himself to the perfect musical expression of poetry; in his songs, the words and the music seemed wedded to each other. His music received great popular and critical acclaim over the next few years, but by 1897 he had experienced a complete mental breakdown, and he died in an insane asylum at the age of 43.

It's the birthday of British statesman Charles Grey, the Second Earl Grey, born in Falloden, England (1764). He was elected to the House of Commons in 1786, and during his career managed to bring about significant political reform in Britain. It took forty years for Grey and his supporters to put together a government progressive enough even to consider giving the vote to non-aristocrats, but they passed the Great Reform Act in 1832, which allowed smaller landowners to vote, and kept ballots secret. While he was Prime Minister, his government also abolished slavery in the colonies and improved conditions for factory workers.

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