May 18, 2005

Song to Onions

by Roy Blount Jr.

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Poem: "Song to Onions," by Roy Blount, Jr.

Song to Onions

They improve everything, pork chops to soup,
And not only that but each onion's a group.

Peel back the skin, delve into tissue
And see how an onion has been blessed with issue.

Every layer produces an ovum:
You think you've got three then you find you've got fovum.

Onion on on—
Ion on onion they run,
Each but the smallest one some onion's mother:
An onion comprises a half-dozen other.

In sum then an onion you could say is less
Than the sum of its parts.
But then I like things that more are than profess—
In food and the arts.

Things pungent, not tony.
I'll take Damon Runyon
Over Antonioni—
Who if an i wanders becomes Anti-onion.
I'm anti-baloney.

Although a baloney sandwich would
Right now, with onions, be right good.

And so would sliced onions,
Chewed with cheese,
Or onions chopped and sprinkled
Over black-eyed peas:

absorbent of essences,
eaten on New Year's Eve

Literary and Historical Notes:

On this day in 1980, Mount St. Helens erupted. First, an earthquake triggered the largest landslide in history down the north slope of the mountain. Then, five hundred and forty million tons of ash were spewed into the sky. Rivers of lava as hot as fourteen hundred degrees poured down the slopes at over a hundred miles an hour, along with twenty billion gallons of floodwater from melted snow on the mountain. In the end, ninety-six thousand acres of forest burned up and fifty-seven people died.

It's the birthday of biographer and novelist Barbara Goldsmith, born in New York City (1931). She worked as a writer for Women's Home Companion, and went on to become a founding editor of New York magazine and a senior editor of Harper's Bazaar. She contributed to Tom Wolfe's 1973 anthology of new journalism, wrote a novel, and hit the bestseller lists with her nonfiction book Little Gloria…Happy at Last (1980), about the Depression-era custody battle over the ten-year old heiress Gloria Vanderbilt. Her most recent book is Other Powers: The Age of Suffrage, Spiritualism, and the Notorious Victoria Woodhull (1998).

It's the birthday of American film director Frank Capra, born near Palermo, Italy (1897). He came to the United States by steerage when he was six years old and settled in Los Angeles, where he was in the thick of the growing film industry. He won the first of his three Academy Awards for the 1934 Clark Gable-Claudette Colbert comedy, It Happened One Night. His other Oscars were for Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) and You Can't Take It With You (1938). His other well-known films include Lost Horizon (1937), Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) and It's a Wonderful Life (1946). He made movies that celebrated American democracy and idealism, movies that made him so famous that he became the first director whose name appeared above the title in film credits.

It's the birthday of architect Walter Gropius, born in Berlin, Germany (1883). He's remembered mainly for his influence on modern architecture as a teacher of architects—first as director of the Bauhaus, in Weimar, Germany, and later at Harvard University.

It's the birthday of British philosopher Bertrand Russell, born in Trelleck, Monmouthshire, England (1872). When he was eleven, his older brother introduced him to Euclid's geometry. He called it "one of the greatest events of my life." For the next thirty years, he devoted himself to the study of mathematics, attempting to spell out a purely logical foundation for mathematics. The fruit of his study was a book, Principals of Mathematics (1903), written with Alfred North Whitehead. The book has been called the most important treatise on logic in the twentieth century. Russell went on to gain wide recognition for his political activism, particularly his stand against nuclear weapons and his opposition to American involvement in Vietnam. His best-known books include Why I Am Not A Christian (1927), History of Western Philosophy (1945), and a three-volume Autobiography (1967-1969). In 1950, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

On this day in 1652, the General Court of Election in Warwick, Rhode Island enacted the first colonial legislation limiting slavery. The Rhode Island legislation made perpetual enslavement of any person, black or white, illegal. The law was only enforced for about fifty years, before perpetual slavery was again recognized in Rhode Island. The slave trade wasn't entirely outlawed in the United States until 1808.

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