Mar. 23, 2005

The Blue Blanket

by Sue Ellen Thompson

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Poem: "The Blue Blanket" by Sue Ellen Thompson. Reprinted with permission.

The Blue Blanket

Toward the end, my father argued
with my mother over everything: He wanted
her to eat again. He wanted her to take

her medicine. He wanted her
to live. He argued with her in their bed
at naptime. He was cold, he said,

tugging at the blanket tangled
in my mother's wasted limbs. From the hall
outside their room I listened

as love, caught and fettered, howled
at its captors, gnawing at its own flesh
in its frenzy to escape. Then I entered

without knocking, freed the blanket
trapped between my mother's knees and shook
it out once, high above

their bodies' cursive. It floated
for a moment, blue as the Italian sky
into which my father flew his bombs

in 1943, blue as the hat I'd bought her
for the winter she would never live
to see. My father's agitation eased,

my mother smiled up at me, her face
lucent with gratitude, as the blanket
sifted down on them like earth.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of poet and novelist David R. Slavitt, born in White Plains, New York (1935). Author or editor of more than 60 books, starting with The Exhibitionist (1967), which he wrote under the pen name Henry Sutton.

It's the birthday of amateur track star Roger Bannister, born in Harrow on the Hill, England (1929), the first person to run a mile in less than four minutes. On May 6, 1954, despite a cold cross wind and poor track conditions, he ran the mile in 3 minutes, 59.4 seconds, collapsing at the tape.

It's the birthday of children's author Eleanor Cameron, born in Winnipeg, Manitoba (1912). Her adult fiction was published to good reviews but poor sales. When she was 42, her son David asked her to write "a story about himself and his best friend and how they would build a spaceship and go off and find a planet." She wrote The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet (1954) and it was a big success. In 1974, Cameron won the National Book Award for The Court of the Stone Children (1973).

It's the birthday of Fannie Farmer, born in Boston (1857). She was the headmistress of the Boston Cooking School, when, in 1896, she published the Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, which revolutionized the field of cookbooks by giving standard measurements—right down to an eighth of a teaspoon—instead just saying of "a pinch of this" or "a dash of that." The publisher was skeptical that it would sell very well—he assumed that everybody knew how to cook—and made her pay all the costs of the printing. But the book went on to sell 4 million copies and made her a household name.

On this day in 1743, Handel's Messiah oratorio was given its first performance, at the Covent Garden Theatre, in London. When the Hallelujah Chorus began, King George the Second leaped to his feet, and everyone else in the theater followed suit—a tradition that is still observed today.

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