Aug. 9, 2002

Aunt Lavinia Strikes

by Fred Chappell

(RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Aunt Lavinia Strikes," by Fred Chappell from Family Gathering (Louisiana State University Press).

Aunt Lavinia Strikes

Aunt Wilma's fabled spoon bread sits
Beside Aunt Martha's perennial grits;
Here Sissie's chicken a la king
Companions Darla's Jell-O ring,
While Cousin Willoughby has brought in
A gay attempt at haute cuisine,
And next-the terror of the soul:
Aunt Lavinia's casserole.

The years come round and, as they do,
Cousin Barney's Irish stew
Will return again somehow
To take an undeserving bow,
Along with Mother Elsie's bread,
A stone to commemorate the dead,
Like the victims we enroll
Under "Aunt Lavinia's Casserole."

Uncle Zeph asks blessing on
The peach preserves and crisp cornpone
Aunt Matilda so tediously made,
And the zucchini marmalade
Brought by crazy Uncle McGhee
He includes democratically;
But his blessing is not whole-
It omits the casserole.

The fumes it breathes are strong enough
To set the smoke detectors off;
The radon gauge screams into red,
The Geiger counters go stark mad.
The laws of physics confirm our fears-
A half-life of four billion years:
For mankind's future we must control
Aunt Lavinia's casserole;

Or else it's what our family
Will bequeath to all eternity:
An angry, evil, black morass
Slowly approaching critical mass.
Ages will roll, constellations will change,
Gemini into Virgo range,
And then the system from pole to pole
Will collapse into the Casserole.

Tonight is the beginning of the annual Perseid meteor showers. The meteors, or "shooting stars," can be seen in all parts of the sky, and sometimes number over a hundred per hour during their peak. They reach their peak between August 9 and August 13.

It's the birthday of the creator of Mary Poppins, P. L. (Pamela Lyndon) Travers, born Helen Lyndon Goff, in Mayborough, Queensland, Australia (1899). She went to London when she was nineteen, became an actress, and adopted the stage name Pamela Lyndon Travers. She also struck up a friendship with William Butler Yeats, with whom she shared a fascination with myth. She started publishing some of her own poems in The Irish Times, but didn't attract any notice as a writer until the publication of her first book, Mary Poppins (1934). She wrote several sequels to Mary Poppins, and a collection of essays about myth, What the Bee Knows: Reflections on Myth, Symbol and Story (1989). She said: "I was told by a Zen master that Mary Poppins was full of Zen, and probably this is quite correct. Zen has to do with reality, and Mary Poppins's basis is not imagination-or not fantasy at any rate, but reality.

It's the birthday of Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget, born in Neuchâtel, Switzerland (1896). He started writing, and publishing, scientific articles when he was only ten years old. He went on to study zoology, and then psychology. What interested him the most was how children develop understanding-how they learn. By observing children, he came up with four developmental stages through which children pass. His work made him the leading figure in the field of developmental psychology. His books include The Language and Thought of the Child (1923) and The Origins of Intelligence in Children (1948).

It's the birthday English author Isaak Walton, born in Stafford, Staffordshire, England (1592). He had an ironmonger's shop in London, near St. Dunstan's Church, where the poet John Donne was the vicar. The two men became friends and fishing companions, and when Donne died in 1631, Walton wrote his biography. He was a Royalist, and during the English Civil Wars he was involved in a number of escapades-most importantly, several of the royal jewels were given to him for safekeeping. After the wars, he settled down to a quiet life of reading, writing, and fishing. He's remembered for one great work, his The Compleat Angler; or, the Contemplative Man's Recreation, published in 1653.

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




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