Mar. 3, 2003


by Deborah Tall

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Poem: "Touched," by Deborah Tall from Summons (Sarabande Books).


At the ballet,
a woman sits down beside me,
sticks her hands on my pregnant belly, says,
"How are we tonight?"

Her embarrassed teenage daughter sinks
into the next seat
while you let loose
with a few good thumps.

I don't know why I tell you this-
you seemed to enjoy at least the music
and you'll soon meet many faces like that woman's
coming at you uninvited.

But I want you to know
how sad it made me-
this first time you were touched by someone
who wasn't going to love you.

Literary Notes:

It's the birthday of poet James Merrill, born in New York City (1926). He was the son of investment banker Charles E. Merrill, the founder of Merrill Lynch. He was thirteen when his parents divorced. He wrote about it in many poems. He wrote, "Always the same old story-/Father Time and Mother Earth,/A marriage on the rocks." He wrote in his memoir, A Different Person (1993), about visiting a doctor about his depression, saying that he didn't know how to live or how to love, he just knew how to write a poem. The doctor, he said, "listened closely, then acted with undreamed-of kindness and dispatch. 'Come with me,' he said, in a flash ushering me out of his downtown office and onto the back seat of a smart little pale-green motor-scooter. I put my arms, as instructed, about his stout, gray-suited person, and off we went in sunlight, through traffic, under trees, past architecture, over the muddy river to lunch."

It's the birthday of inventor Alexander Graham Bell, the man who gave us the telephone, born in Edinburgh, Scotland (1847). He was a teacher of the deaf and came to invent the telephone because he had been working on a device for the deaf for transmitting sound with electricity. One of his deaf pupils who knew of his invention, a woman named Mabel Hubbard, encouraged him to take advantage of the opportunity, and even offered to go with him to Philadelphia. He refused but went with her to the railroad station. She was so stubborn that she got on the train and as it moved off without him, she burst into tears. Seeing this, Bell rushed ahead and caught the train, without baggage or ticket. The exposition was a great success and Bell and Hubbard later married. He was the inventor of the telephone, but he refused to have a telephone in his own study and there was no telephone in his house in Florida where he spent the winters.

It's the birthday of crime writer Nicolas Freeling, born in London, England (1927). Freeling began writing a series of mystery novels starring the Dutch police inspector Piet van der Valk, a detective who uses intuition, gossip, and hunches as his guides, constantly curious, but taking frequent breaks from his investigation for well-cooked (and lovingly described) lunches with his French wife.

On this day in 1873, Congress enacted the Comstock Law, making it illegal to send any "obscene, lewd, or lascivious" books through the mail. The law led to James Joyce's Ulysses being barred from the United States.

On this day in 1802, Ludwig van Beethoven published one of the most famous piano pieces ever written, the "Moonlight Sonata." Its official title is "Sonata number 14 in C Sharp Minor, Opus 27, number 2." He was never happy about how popular the sonata became and later said, "Surely I've written better things."

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




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