Aug. 29, 2004

The Wind Throws Back

by Hal Sirowitz

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Poems: "Believing in Fate" and "The Wind Throws Back," by Hal Sirowitz, from before, during, and after. © Soft Skull Press. Reprinted with permission.

Believing in Fate

I don't have a telephone, she said,
so I can't give you a number.
I'm not a great fan of planned dates.
But if I happen to bump into you
on the street I'd be willing to go for coffee.
Let's leave it to chance. It brought
us together once. It could work a second time.
You could help fate along by hanging out
in Chelsea. That's where I live. If I
gave you any more information I'd be cheating.

The Wind Throws Back

I lied when I told you I didn't have
a phone number, she said. I wasn't
sure about you, but now that I know
you're sane & responsible—aren't you?—
I'm going to throw caution to the wind
& hope it doesn't blow back in my face.
But if you ever spent any time in a mental hospital
I'd like to know. I won't let
it prejudice me against you.
I'm willing to give you a chance,
provided you get a letter from a psychiatrist
stating your case was closed.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of physician, poet, and humorist Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., born in Cambridge, Massachusetts (1809). He first achieved national prominence with his poem "Old Ironsides" (1830), about the 18th century battleship USS Constitution being taken apart for scrap. People responded to his poem, and the ship is now maintained as a historic monument. He also wrote "The Chambered Nautilus" (1858). After studying medicine in Paris for three years, Holmes returned to the United States and enrolled at Harvard the same year his first book of verse was published (1836). Holmes became an anatomy professor, a job he held for forty-seven years. In his spare time, he wrote his essays and poems. He helped found, with James Russell Lowell, The Atlantic Monthly magazine in 1857.

Holmes said, "I find that the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand as in what direction we are moving: To reach the port of heaven, we must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it—but we must sail, and not drift, nor lie at anchor."

It's the birthday of British philosopher John Locke, born in Somerset, England (1632). He said, "Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking that makes what we read ours." Locke studied medicine at Oxford. His health, always delicate, suffered from the London climate. He left England in search of mild air. After traveling about Europe, he ended up in the south of France where he settled for many months. Locke wrote Two Treatises of Government (1690). He believed in Natural Law, and that people have Natural Rights, under which the right of property is most important. He wrote, "... every man has a property in his own person. This nobody has any right to but himself." He believed government exists to protect those rights and he argued in favor of revolt against tyranny. His ideas were a foundation for much of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.

It's the birthday of jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker, born in Kansas City, Kansas (1920). He is considered one of the half-dozen greatest jazz musicians, right up there with Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong. He received early in his career the nickname of "Yardbird," and became known as "Bird." He grew up listening to Count Basie's band, and moved to New York where he helped create "bebop." He was also a great blues player and is known for his improv piece, "Parker's Mood."

As a teenager, Parker became addicted to morphine while hospitalized after a car accident. He later became addicted to heroin which contributed to his death at 34. He said, "I realized by using the high notes of the chords as a melodic line, and by the right harmonic progression, I could play what I heard inside me. That's when I was born."

It's the birthday of poet Thom(son) Gunn, born in Gravesend, Kent, in 1929. He is known for his book, Fighting Terms (1954), a collection of poetry described by the critic John Press as a postwar volume all serious poetry readers need to study. As an undergraduate, Gunn left Cambridge for Stanford and eventually made San Francisco his home during the Beat movement. He gave up a tenured position at Berkeley in the 1960's because he couldn't stand going to department meetings. Since then, he published eight collections of poetry, including Touch (1967), The Passages of Joy (1982), The Man With Night Sweats (1992), and Boss Cupid (2000). Thom Gunn died on April 25, 2004. He was 74. He once said, "I love streets. I could stand on the street and look at the people all day ..."

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