Jun. 30, 2002


by R. T. Smith

SUNDAY, 30 JUNE 2002
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Poem: "Alphabet," by R.T. Smith from Messenger (Louisiana State University Press).


In the sewing room
the mail-order Singer
with its chrome-rimmed
wheel and gleaming needle
was turned under
to make a desk while
mother started dinner.

I faced west where
the window shimmered.
For an hour I rehearsed
my letters, spelling
everything visible-
zipper and scissors,
thimbles and spools.
The oval mirror made
the wallpaper zinnias
flower still further,
and a mantel clock
held the minutes back.

The Eagle pencil
in my cramped hand
scratched fishhook
j or an i like a needle.
Late sunlight glazed
the holly leaves silver
beyond the peeling sill.
While I squinted hard
at the Blue Horse paper,
the twilight world
held perfectly still.

When I was finished,
each curve and flourish
set in disciplined rows,
fresh tea with ice
appeared at my elbow,
the yellow c of lemon
in the tumbler's perfect o,
and if mother had praise for what I had done,
I would shine all evening
bright as a straight pin,
while the new moon
with its careless serifs
cleared the trees and rose.

On this day in 1952, The Guiding Light was first broadcast on television, in an episode that was 15 minutes long. The soap opera began on radio in 1937, and from 1952 until 1956, the cast performed the same scripts for radio and television each day. The original stories centered around the Rev. Doctor John Ruthledge and the people who came to him for help. He always kept a lamp on in his study as a sign to those who needed his assistance, and the lamp was known to all as "The Guiding Light." Currently, The Guiding Light is the longest running show in broadcast history.

On this day in 1936, Gone with the Wind was published. The novel was written by Margaret Mitchell.

It's the birthday of the poet, novelist, and translator Czeslaw Milosz, born in Szetejnie, Lithuania in 1911. He fought in the Polish resistance during World War II, was a diplomat in communist Poland after the war, and came to the United States to teach at Berkeley in 1960. He became a U.S. citizen in 1970, and was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1980.

It's the birthday of the novelist Winston Graham, born in Victoria Park, Manchester, England, in 1910. He is best known for his Poldark novels, which became a BBC television series.

On this day in 1857 (sometimes 1853), Charles Dickens gave his first public reading. He needed the money, and he wanted to get away from home and his unhappy marriage. He also loved to perform in front of an audience. It was June in 1857, but his first reading was of "A Christmas Carol" at Saint Martin's Hall in London. Altogether, he gave about 471 readings during his life.

It's the birthday of scholar and editor Alexander Dyce, born in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1798. One of the most respected editors of his time, his works are characterized by scrupulous care and attention to detail. Dyce edited a dictionary of the language of Shakespeare, and then a nine-volume edition of Shakespeare's works which came out in 1857.

It's the birthday of the poet and dramatist John Gay, born in Barnstaple, England, in 1685, and buried in Westminster Abbey with the self-composed epitaph: "Life is a jest, and all things show it. I thought so once, and now I know it." Gay is best known for his play, The Beggar's Opera, which was very popular when it opened in 1728.

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