Jul. 9, 2002


by Stanley Plumly

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Poem: "Infidelity," by Stanley Plumly from Boy on the Step (The Ecco Press).


The two-toned Olds swinging sideways out of
the drive, the bone-white gravel kicked up in
a shot, my mother in the deathseat half

out the door, the door half shut - she's being
pushed or wants to jump, I don't remember.
The Olds is two kinds of green, hand-painted,
and blows black smoke like a coal-oil fire. I'm
stunned and feel a wind, like a machine, pass
through me, through my heart and mouth; I'm
in a field not fifty feet away, the
wheel of the wind closing the distance.
Then suddenly the car stops and my mother
falls with nothing, nothing to break the fall…

One of those moments we give too much to,
like the moment of acknowledgment of
betrayal, when the one who's faithless has
nothing more to say and the silence is
terrifying since you must choose between
one or the other emptiness. I know
my mother's face was covered black with blood
and that when she rose she too said nothing.
Language is a darkness pulled out of us.
But I screamed that day she was almost killed,
whether I wept or ran or threw a stone,
or stood stone-still, choosing at last between
parents, one of whom was driving away.

On this day, members of the Baha'i faith commemorate the Martyrdom of the Báb, one of the prophets and founders of their faith. Mírzá Áli Muhammad, who took the title "Báb," or "Gate," was executed by a firing squad in Tabriz, Persia, on this day in 1850.

It's the birthday of Canadian novelist and short story writer Diane Schoemperlen, born in Thunder Bay, Ontario (1954). Her first novel, In the Language of Love (1994), is composed of one hundred chapters, each one based on one of the one hundred words in the Standard Word Association Test, which was used to measure sanity. There are chapters titled "Table," "Slow," "Cabbage," and "Scissors." In her second novel, Our Lady of Lost and Found (2001), the narrator is visited by the Virgin Mary, and the two women spend a month cooking and cleaning and going shopping. Diane Schoemperlen said: "Many people waste their lives, looking forward to that time when they will be happy, and that's part of the reason they don't notice what's going on around them. It's like when you drive the same stretch of road every day: you don't see it anymore, you don't see the scenery. It all circles back to why I focus so much on details. Maybe if we all paid a little more attention as we went along we might be more satisfied."

It's the birthday of writer and neurologist Oliver Sacks, born in London, England (1933). He came to the United States in 1960 and eventually made his way to a position on the staff of Beth Abraham Hospital in the Bronx. There he found the survivors of a sleeping sickness epidemic in the early 1920s who had fallen into a deep sleep from which nothing could wake them. Using an experimental treatment, he was able to rouse some of these patients, but for many of them the shock of the "awakening" was too much to handle and they retreated back into sleep. Dr. Sacks wrote about these patients in his book Awakenings (1973). He went on to write several more books about his experiences as a neurologist, including The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (1985).

It's the birthday of Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Samuel Eliot Morison, born in Boston, Massachusetts (1887). For forty years, he was a professor of history at Harvard University, but he became known to a wider audience through his vivid biographies of Christopher Columbus and naval hero John Paul Jones. The authenticity of his books on American naval history was enhanced by his service as a naval officer during World War Two. He retired from the navy as a rear admiral in 1951. He wrote A History of U.S. Naval Operations in World War Two, in fifteen volumes (1947-1962), The Oxford History of the American People (1965), and the two Pulitzer Prize-winning biographies Admiral of the Ocean Sea (1942) and John Paul Jones (1959).

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