Nov. 9, 2004


by Elizabeth W. Garber

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Poem: "Feasting" by Elizabeth W. Garber, from Pierced by the Seasons © The Illuminated Sea Press, 2004. Reprinted with permission.


I am so amazed to find myself kissing you
with such abandon,
filling myself with our kisses
astounding hunger for edges of lips and tongue.
Returning to feast again and again,
our bellies never overfilling from this banquet.
Returning in surprise,
in remembering,
in rediscovering,
such play of flavors of gliding lips
and forests of pressures and spaces.
The spaces between the branches
as delicious as finding the grove of lilies of the valley
blossoming just outside my door under the ancient oak.
"I've never held anyone this long," you said,
the second time you entered my kitchen.
I am the feast this kitchen was blessed to prepare
waiting for you to enter open mouthed in awe
in the mystery we've been given,
our holy feast.

Literary and Historical Notes:

Today is the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the night in 1938 when German Nazis coordinated a nationwide attack on Jewish homes, businesses, and synagogues. The attack was inspired by the murder of a German diplomat by a Jew in Paris. When Hitler heard the news, he got the idea to stage a mass uprising in response. He and Joseph Goebbels contacted storm troopers around the country, and told them to attack Jewish buildings but to make the attacks look like spontaneous demonstrations. The police were told not to interfere with the demonstrators, but instead to arrest the Jewish victims. Fire fighters were told only to put out fires in any adjacent Aryan properties. Everyone cooperated.

In all, more than 1,000 synagogues were burned or destroyed. Rioters looted about 7,500 Jewish businesses and vandalized Jewish hospitals, homes, schools, and cemeteries. Many of the attackers were neighbors of the victims. The Nazis confiscated any compensation claims that insurance companies paid to Jews. They also imposed a huge collective fine on the Jewish community for having supposedly incited the violence. The event was used to justify barring Jews from schools and most public places, and forcing them to adhere to new curfews. In the days following, thousands of Jews were sent to concentration camps.

The event was called Kristallnacht, which means, "Night of Broken Glass." It's generally considered the official beginning of the Holocaust. Before that night, the Nazis had killed people secretly and individually. After Kristallnacht, the Nazis felt free to persecute the Jews openly, because they knew no one would stop them.

It's the birthday of the poet, playwright and novelist James Schuyler, born in Chicago (1923). When he was fifteen years old, he went camping by himself in Upstate New York. Sitting in his tent, he read a book about Walt Whitman, and he said, "I looked up from my book, and the whole landscape seemed to shimmer." From that moment on, he decided to be a poet.

He is associated with the New York School of poetry, along with John Ashbery and Frank O'Hara, though he actually didn't care for New York City and spent most of his life in Maine. He's known for his conversational poems, which read like beautiful grocery lists and notes to himself. In one poem, he wrote,

"There is a hornet in the room
and one of us will have to go
out the window into the late
August midafternoon sun. I
won. There is a certain challenge
in being humane to hornets
but not much."
His many books of poetry include Hymn to Life (1974) and The Morning of the Poem (1980). His Collected Poems came out in 1993.

It's the birthday of the poet Anne Sexton, born Anne Harvey in Newton, Massachusetts (1928). She said of her childhood, "I was locked in my room until the age of five. After that...at home, or away from it, people seemed out of reach. Thus I hid in fairy tales and read them daily like a prayer-book. Any book was closer than a person. I did not even like my dolls for they resembled people."

She never went to college, eloped when she was nineteen, and became a suburban 1950's housewife. She was twenty-eight when she had her first nervous breakdown. After a suicide attempt, her psychiatrist advised her to try to writing poetry as therapy. She did, and the following year she took a poetry seminar with the poet Robert Lowell, who admired her work. Within a few years of having written her first poems, she had published her work in more than forty magazines, including Harpers and The New Yorker.

For the rest of her life, she was in and out of mental institutions, on and off psychiatric drugs, and she said that poetry was the only thing that kept her alive. She said, "My fans think I got well, but I didn't: I just became a poet."

Most critics consider her best poems to be those in her first two books To Bedlam and Partway Back (1960) and All My Pretty Ones (1962). Her collection Live or Die (1966) won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. She committed suicide in 1974.

Anne Sexton said, "Poetry is my love, my postmark, my hands, my kitchen, my face."

It's the birthday of the astronomer Carl Sagan, born in Brooklyn, New York (1934). He said, "I wanted to be a scientist from the moment I first caught on that stars are mighty suns, [and] it dawned on me how staggeringly far away they must be to appear to us as mere points of light." He spent many nights of his childhood in a field, situating himself so he couldn't see any buildings, trees, or anything else but stars. He graduated from high school and won a scholarship to the University of Chicago when he was only sixteen.

He became a professor of astronomy at Cornell University. At a time when most other astronomers were focusing on distant stars, other galaxies, and the history of the Universe, Sagan focused his research on the planets in our own solar system. He was particularly interested in the possibility that there might be life beyond the planet earth.

Because he had done extensive research on nearby planets, NASA hired him as an advisor for a mission to send remote controlled spacecrafts to Venus. Sagan said, "It was just a dream come true. We were actually going to go to the planets!"

In preparation for the mission, Sagan was shocked to learn that there would be no cameras on the robotic spacecrafts, called Mariner I and Mariner II. The other scientists thought cameras would be a waste of valuable space and equipment. They wanted to measure things like temperature and magnetism. Sagan couldn't believe they would give up the chance to see an alien planet up close. He said, "Cameras are important precisely because they could answer questions we are too stupid to ask."

Sagan lost the argument that time, but he won over NASA eventually. The Mariners were the last exploratory spacecraft ever launched by NASA without cameras. He contributed to the Viking, Voyager, and Galileo planetary exploration missions, and his insistence on the use of cameras helped us get the first close up photographs of the outer planets and their moons. Sagan understood that in order to get the public to care about science, to give tax dollars to science, he would have to appeal to the public's sense of wonder.

He was one of the first scientists to appear on the Johnny Carson show, and he became a regular guest, appearing twenty-five times. He created the TV show Cosmos, which attracted an audience of over half a billion people in sixty countries, the most popular scientific television program ever produced. His book based on the series spent seventy weeks on the New York Times best-seller list.

He won a Pulitzer Prize for his book The Dragons of Eden (1977) about the evolution of human intelligence, and he was also the author of the best-selling novel Contact (1985) which was made into a movie. He even had an asteroid named after him.

Carl Sagan said, "For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love."

And, "Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known."

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




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