Jan. 20, 2004


by Jim Harrison

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Poem: "Despond," by Jim Harrison.


At midnight in his living room a man
is angry at a fly that is bothering him.
How can this be?
A man is angry at things
that never happened
and never will happen.
He's angry at the woman he'll never meet
because she refuses to meet him
because, not existing herself,
she has no idea that he exists.
He's frying potatoes that don't exist
at sunset. The frying pan is a black sun
and out the window in the gathering dark
the ocean looks so heavy that it might fall
through the earth and join another ocean.
At dawn he wakes. There's a fly in the room
but perhaps it's a miniature bird. Magnified,
the sound is the basso rumbling of the universe
the peculiar music galaxies make when they fray
against each other. He sleeps again, his hand
on his dog's heart which says don't be angry.
She senses the steps of the last dance saved for us

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Italian film director Federico Fellini, born in Rimini, Italy (1920). As a young man, he enrolled in the University of Rome Law School to avoid military service, but he never attended classes. He worked instead as a cartoonist for a satirical magazine and as a gag writer for a vaudeville troupe. In 1943, he was ordered to undergo a medical examination for the army, but his medical records were destroyed in a bombing. He spent the next two years in the slums of Rome eluding the German Occupation troops, who searched the city for men to replenish the armed forces and to work in slave labor camps. After the war, Fellini turned to filmmaking and made a string of films about beggars, gypsies, swindlers, and prostitutes. He became famous for his film La Dolce Vita (1960). He was a charming, bear-like man, who always wore a wide-brimmed black hat, and gestured with both hands, even while driving one of his favorite motorcars. He overdubbed all his actors' voices, because he believed that most people didn't have voices that matched their appearance. He once said, "You can't teach old fleas new dogs."

It's the birthday of Nathaniel P. Willis, born in Portland, Maine (1806). He worked as a writer and editor for many publications, including American Monthly Magazine and the New York Mirror. Early in his career, he negatively reviewed Edgar Allen Poe's poem "Fairyland." He and Poe later became friends, and in 1845 Willis was the first to publish Poe's most famous poem, "The Raven."

It's the birthday of filmmaker David Lynch, born in Missoula, Montana (1946). He originally wanted to be a painter, but as a student at the Philadelphia School of Fine Art he started to experiment with film, which he has called "moving paintings." Ten years later, he finished his first full-length movie, Eraserhead (1977), and it was a tremendous critical success. He went on to direct Blue Velvet (1986), which many consider his masterpiece.

It's the birthday of actor and comedian George Burns, born Nathan Burnbaum in New York City (1896). He lived to be 100 years old. He said, "The most important thing in acting is honesty. If you can fake that, you've got it made."

It's the birthday of wildlife conservationist and author Joy Adamson, born in what is now Opava, Czechoslovakia (1910). She's the author of Born Free: A Lioness of Two Worlds (1960), about a lion named Elsa, which she and her husband raised from a cub and then returned to the wild.

On this day in 1961, an 87-year-old Robert Frost recited his poem "The Gift Outright" at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy. Although Frost had written a new poem for the occasion, entitled "Dedication," faint ink in his typewriter and the bright sun made the words difficult to read, so instead he recited his poem "The Gift Outright" from memory.

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