May 6, 2002

Summers, About 1959

by Alberto Rios

MONDAY, 6 MAY 2002
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Poem: "Summers, About 1959," by Alberto Rios from The Smallest Muscle in the Human Body (Copper Canyon Press).

Summers, About 1959

Women wore those sleeveless blouses
Where, if you tried, you could peek in
And try to get a look.

But it was always the wrong angle.
Contact lenses got invented in those years, too.
I remember the first boy who got some:

He had big white lines
From his nose to his ears
As if he were wearing invisible glasses.

That's how someone explained them to me
And I believed it: invisible glasses.
But they were really just the tan lines

From so many years of big, standard-issue
Black frames, glasses a little like
Plymouths for the face.

This was when summers were all the X-15,
Mickey Mantle and Roberto Clemente,
TV dinners and the drive-in.

Summers had a smell then. When you inhaled
You got the sound of crickets and cicadas
As well in your nose, and Sputnik too-

A word that rolled around in our mouths
Then spat itself out. Sputnik. We said it
All the time. Things were changing.

It's the birthday of the poet Randall Jarrell, born in Nashville (1914). His first job was at Kenyon College, where he met the writers Robert Lowell and Peter Taylor, whom he counted among his closest friends. During the war, he served as a celestial navigation tower operator, a title he said was the most poetic in the Air Force. His critical powers were fearsome. Lowell remembered later, "Woe to the acquaintance who liked the wrong writer, the wrong poem by the right writer, or the wrong lines in the right poem." He loved fast cars, opera, and cats. He died in 1965 when he was struck by a car, a death that was considered a suicide.

It's the birthday of the Japanese novelist Inoue Yasushi, born on the northern island of Hokkaido (1909). The men in his family had been physicians for seven generations, but he failed the examination to get into medical school. He didn't graduate from college until he was twenty-nine, and didn't publish his first novel until he was thirty-six. The next year, though, he won Japan's best-known literary prize, which freed him to write full-time. His historical novels about China and the Silk Road are so rich in detail that they can be consulted as source books.

It's the birthday of the poet Rabindrinath Tagore, born in Calcutta (1861). He went to study law in England, but he returned after a year because the weather was so depressing. Back in India, he simultaneously wrote, composed music, painted, and did political work. A volume of his poetry, Gitanjali, was published in English in 1912. Yeats gave a reading of the poems to an audience which included Ezra Pound; both poets were galvanized by Tagore's simple words and striking images. He was awarded the Nobel Prize the following year; it was the first time the prize had been given to anybody from Asia. The national anthems of both India and Bangladesh are his compositions.

It's the birthday of Sigmund Freud, born Sigismund Shlomo Freud, in what is now Pribor, Czechoslovakia (1856). He wanted to do research on neurophysiology, and invented an elegant cell-staining process, but he had no funds to finance his research, and so turned instead to the new technique of treating hysterical patients with hypnosis. He found that he didn't have to hypnotize patients to get them to speak freely; letting them lie on a couch out of his sight and say whatever came into their heads was enough. He came to believe that people's actions were driven largely by impulses and memories that they themselves were not aware of. Late in his life, Freud wrote about discoveries that traumatized humanity by shrinking its view of itself-Copernicus' discovery that the earth is not the center of the universe, for example, and later, Darwin's discovery that humans are not the crown of creation. To these, Freud added the humiliating discovery that we are not even in control of our own minds.

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




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