Oct. 1, 2003

Eating Together

by Li-Young Lee

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Poem: "Eating Together," by Li-Young Lee, from Rose (BOA Editions).

Eating Together

In the steamer is the trout
seasoned with slivers of ginger,
two sprigs of green onion, and sesame oil.
We shall eat it with rice for lunch,
brothers, sister, my mother who will
taste the sweetest meat of the head,
holding it between her fingers
deftly, the way my father did
weeks ago. Then he lay down
to sleep like a snow-covered road
winding through pines older than him,
without any travelers, and lonely for no one.

Literary Notes:

It's the birthday of aviation pioneer William E. Boeing, born in Detroit, Michigan (1881). He went to Harvard, but left early to go into the timber industry. He became interested in flying, took lessons, and bought a small plane. On his first solo flight from Los Angeles to Seattle, he misjudged his landing and damaged his plane. When he learned that replacement parts would take weeks to ship, he decided to make his own, and that was the start of the company that became Boeing Aviation.

It's the birthday of historian and author Daniel J. Boorstin, born in Atlanta, Georgia (1914). He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1974 for Empire of Czar. His other books include The Discoverers (1983), a study of great explorers in history, and The Creators (1992), which chronicles the achievements of great artists.

It's the birthday of classical pianist Vladimir Horowitz, born in Ukraine (1904). When he was eight years old, he began studying music at the Kiev Conservatory. He got his big break in 1926 when he played Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto with only a half-hour's notice. He got a standing ovation and became an overnight success. When he had already established a secure reputation, the only major composer who had not opened up to him was Arturo Toscanini. After they met, Horowitz eventually won over Toscanini with his charm, and later married Toscanini's daughter. In 1986, he returned to his native Russia to give a series of concerts. It was his first return visit in sixty years.

It's the birthday of actor Walter Matthau, born in New York City (1920). He won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role in The Fortune Cookie (1966), and this was also the movie in which he starred with Jack Lemmon for the first time. When Matthau died three years ago, many newspapers reported in his obituary that his real surname was Matuschanskayasky. But this was just a false name that Matthau made up during an interview.

It's the birthday of the actress who played Maria in The Sound of Music (1965), Julie Andrews, born Julie Elizabeth Wells in Surrey, England (1935). She showed much talent even at a young age, and her father encouraged her. He taught her to read and write when she was three years old. When she was eight she began acting in theaters, and when she was thirteen she sang for the queen. Later, she became the youngest professional actress to play the lead role in My Fair Lady.

It's the birthday of author Tim O'Brien, born in Worthington, Minnesota. He graduated from Macalester College in St. Paul, and went to Harvard for graduate school. He was drafted to go to the Vietnam War, and he went, even though he was opposed to it. Before he went off to Vietnam, he was spending the day in northern Minnesota and had the chance to cross the border into Canada, but he decided not to. He said later, "I did not want people to think badly of me. My conscience told me to run, but I was ashamed of my conscience, ashamed to be doing the right thing." When he returned from Vietnam, he worked as an intern at The Washington Post. He left journalism after the publication of his book If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home (1973). Almost all of his books deal with the Vietnam War. In the Lake of the Woods (1994), tells the story of John Wade, a would-be senator who suffers a defeat in the primary because it's revealed that he covered up his involvement in the My Lai massacre. After his defeat, his wife disappears, and Wade begins to think that he might have killed her and just not remembered. O'Brien also wrote The Things They Carried (1990), Going After Cacciato (1978), and July, July (2002). Tim O'Brien said, "Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can't remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember but the story."

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