Nov. 30, 2003


by Russell Edson

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Poem: "Antimatter," by Russell Edson from The Tunnel (Field Translations Series).


     On the other side of a mirror there's an inverse world, where the in- sane go sane; where bones climb out of the earth and recede to the first slime of love.

     And in the evening the sun is just rising.

     Lovers cry because they are a day younger, and soon childhood robs them of their pleasure.

     In such a world there is much sadness which, of course, is joy . . .

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of playwright David Alan Mamet, born in Chicago, Illinois (1947). He's the author of Glengarry Glen Ross (1984) and Speed the Plow (1988). He said the revelation of twentieth century drama is "that you can apply the Aristotelian unities to a microcosm, to a very, very small human interchange. . . . It [doesn't] have to be about conquering France. It can be about who did or did not turn on the gas on the stove."

It's the birthday of poet Robert Lax, born in Olean, New York (1915). He was Thomas Merton's closest friend at Columbia, and they wrote to each other for almost thirty years after Merton entered a Trappist monastery. Lax converted to Catholicism too, and spent his later years living as a hermit on the Greek island of Patmos.

It's the birthday of Lucy Maud Montgomery, born in Clifton, Prince Edward Island (1874). She's the author of the Anne of Green Gables books.

It's the birthday of Mark Twain, born Samuel Langhorne Clemens, in Florida, Missouri (1835). He wrote Life on the Mississippi (1883), The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), and his own favorite, The Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc (1891). He was cynical and irreverent, but he had a tender spot for cats. There were always kittens in the house, and he gave them names like "Sin" and "Sour Mash." "Mamma has morals," said his daughter Suzy, "and Papa has cats." Twain swore constantly and without shame. His streams of profanity alarmed his wife. One day he cut himself shaving, and she heard a string of oaths from the bathroom. She resolved to move him to repentance, and she repeated back to him all the bad words he had just said. He smiled at her and shook his head. "You have the words, Livy," he said, "but you'll never learn the tune."

After Twain published The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, he had a great deal of cash on his hands, which he invested in a typesetting machine that was very complicated and demanded more and more investment. In the end, it didn't work. He had to declare bankruptcy, and he decided to go on a worldwide lecture tour, the proceeds of which he would use to pay back all of his creditors. His visits to Africa and Asia convinced him that a God who allowed Christians to believe that they were better than savages was a God he wanted no part of.

Mark Twain said, "It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt." And he said, "Good friends, good books and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life."

It's the birthday of Jonathan Swift, born in Dublin, Ireland (1667), the author of Tales of a Tub (1704), and Gulliver's Travels (1726). He once said, about a book he admired, "That is as well said as if I had said it myself."

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




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