Dec. 18, 2002

Best Intentions

by X. J. Kennedy

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Poem: "In the Airport Bar," and "Best Intentions," by X.J. Kennedy from The Lords of Misrule (The Johns Hopkins University Press).

In the Airport Bar

Cooling our heels within this bright
    Pink neon-lit upholstered box,
While, outside, flames deice our flight
    We rattle bourbon on the rocks,
Endure delay and, free from care,
    Consume the day without half trying.
Our thirst for taking to the air
    Quenched by fear of dying.

Best Intentions

Guilt keeps an attic crammed with things undone,
Old friends ignored, the months-unwritten letter,
Duties we'd sooner shrink from than confront,
But won't let go. Tomorrow we'll do better,
We tell ourselves, and yet remain inert,
Watching our best intentions by the minute
Incubate mildew like a dirty shirt,
An outgrown bassinet, mice nesting in it.

On this day in 1839, an American chemistry professor named John William Draper took a photograph of the moon with a camera made out of a cigar box. He used a process like Daguerre's, but he came up with it by himself; Daguerre hadn't made his invention public yet. The plate was exposed for twenty minutes, and the image was one inch across. It was the first time anyone in the U.S. tried to take a picture of something in the sky.

It's the birthday of playwright Christopher Fry, born Christopher Harris in Bristol, England (1907). He's the author of The Lady's Not for Burning (1948); the original production starred Laurence Olivier. He wrote, "The moon is nothing / But a circumambulatory aphrodisiac / Divinely subsidized to provoke the world / Into a rising birth-rate."

It's the birthday of jazz musician Fletcher Henderson, born in Cuthbert, Georgia (1897). Most jazz musicians in the twenties came from the wrong side of the tracks, but Henderson's mother was a classical piano teacher and he had a college degree in chemistry. When it was clear he was never going to be a chemist -- he figured no company would ever hire a black man -- he worked as a song-plugger, then signed on to an all-black recording company, and started to front a group of musicians from a New York club who thought his educated ways might get them better jobs. Don Redman wrote their arrangements, and when Louis Armstrong joined the orchestra for a year and they realized what he could do, Redman threw out the old charts and arranged the tunes so sections played against each other and musicians could take solos. Henderson's was the first real jazz orchestra. In 1984, the clarinetist Bob Wilbur found a stack of Henderson's arrangements in Lincoln Center. "They were written in a very precise beautiful hand," he said. "In a way they reminded me of Mozart's scores. They were absolutely meticulous, with no signs of erasures or changes."

It's the birthday of writer Hector Hugh Munro, who wrote under the pen name Saki, born in Burma (1870).

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




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