Oct. 5, 2002

Bernard and Sarah

by Henry Taylor

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Poem: "Bernard and Sarah," by Henry Taylor from Understanding Fiction (Louisiana State University Press).

Bernard and Sarah

"Hang them where they'll do some good," my grandfather
said, as he placed the dusty photograph
in my father's hands. My father and I stared
at two old people posed stiffly side by side-
my great-great-great-grandparents, in the days
when photography was young, and they were not.
My father thought it out as we drove home.

Deciding that they might do the most good
somewhere out of sight, my father drove
a nail into the back wall of his closet;
they have hung there ever since, brought out
only on such occasions as the marriage
of one of his own children. "I think you ought
to know the stock you're joining with," he says.

Then back they go to the closet, where they hang
keeping their counsel until it is called for.
Yet, through walls, over miles of fields and woods
that flourish still around the farm they cleared,
their eyes light up the closet of my brain
to draw me toward the place I started from,
and when I have come home, they take me in.

It's the birthday of novelist Brian O'Nolan, better known as Flann O'Brien, born in Strabane, Country Tyrone, Ireland (1911). His best known novel is At Swin-Two-Birds (1939).

It's the birthday of photography pioneer Louis Jean Lumiere, born in Besancon, France (1864). In 1895, with his brother Auguste, he invented the first motion-picture camera and projector and produced the first newsreel.

It's the birthday of Czech president and playwright, Vaclav Havel, born in Prague in 1936. His first three plays were The Garden Party, The Memorandum, and The Increased Difficulty of Concentration. They were known for their inventive looks at bureaucracy and how it created a dehumanized society. After the Soviet invasion of 1968, Havel's works were banned and he was imprisoned for his political outspokenness. Havel first went to prison in 1977 for his involvement with a human rights organization called Charter 77. Made up of about three hundred writers, intellectuals, musicians, and church officials, Charter 77 issued a manifesto, saying the Czech government broke from its agreement at the 1975 Helsinki Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In 1989, the totalitarian Czechoslovakia crumbled under the leadership of Havel. He had been unanimously elected President by a parliament that was packed with the very people that had thrown him in jail.

It's the birthday of scientist Robert Hutchings Goddard, born in Worcester, Massachusetts (1882), who is known as the "Father of the Space Age." From childhood, Goddard had been fascinated by space travel, finding inspiration in part from H. G. Wells's War of the Worlds. He began studying physics at Worcester Polytechnic Institute and as a student he decided that the most effective propellant would be a combination of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. In 1926 he discovered an even more effective liquid fuel combination: gasoline and liquid oxygen. He launched the world's first liquid-propelled rocket, a small device that went up 41 feet and landed 184 feet away. In 1930, Goddard moved his operations to Roswell, New Mexico, establishing the world's first professional rocket proving ground.

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