Aug. 26, 2005

The Angel's Retirement Speech

by Annie Farnsworth

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Poem: "The Angel's Retirement Speech" by Annie Farnsworth, from Bodies of Water, Bodies of Light. © Annie Farnsworth. Reprinted with permission.

The Angel's Retirement Speech

My advice to those of you
just starting out: don't expect too much,
or to make a big splash.
They're all so jaded now, what with all
this technology. Not like the old days,
when all you had to do
was throw your voice on the wind,
cry tears through a statue, maybe just appear
in times of great stress, looking your most
     No, now they've got
their own miracles, like cell phones
and videos - who needs a visitation
when they've got their own apparitions
appearing and disappearing, all night
on Extended Basic Cable?
With advances like that,
a voice from heaven is not all that impressive,
nor the sight of winged creatures hovering
in a golden shaft of light.

I guess I would say
just stick to the basics, the stuff
that always works. Like birthing babies,
and healing the folks the doctors thought hopeless.
Maybe pull the stalled car off the train tracks
at the very last second. When things look grim
give 'em the old "Jesus' face in a potato chip," or
maybe a squirrel's nest that becomes, at dusk,
the spitting image of St. Francis in profile.
It might sometimes seem
like a thankless job but when you
do it right, just watch them pack up
for a road trip pilgrimage
with their picnic baskets and instamatics.
Watch their eyes widened in innocence again,
to see the Mary Magdalene in a cloud formation,
or the Enquirer's MOSES ZUCCHINI.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of novelist Julio Cortazar, born in Brussels, Belgium to Argentine parents (1914).

It's the birthday of the novelist Zona Gale, born in Portage, Wisconsin (1874), whose best known novel was Miss Lulu Bett.

It's the birthday of art collector and patron Peggy Guggenheim, born in New York City (1898).

It's the birthday of the inventor Joseph Montgolfier, born in Annonay, France (1740). He and his brother Etienne were in the paper manufacturing business. And one night watching the fire in his fireplace, Joseph wondered what caused the sparks to rise. He made a bag out of silk and lit a fire under the opening and watched it rise. He thought it was smoke that lifted it. He didn't know it was simply heated air.

So the Montgolfier brothers decided to build a contraption for flight. At that time the only creatures who had ever flown were birds and insects. But in 1783, they made a huge bag out of cloth and paper, held the opening over a fire, and inflated the bag to a height of 110 feet. When it was full, they released it, and it rose more than 3,000 feet into the air. Then they sent up a balloon with a sheep, a duck, and a rooster in a basket under the balloon, with the king and queen of France watching. The balloon landed, and the animals were okay.

So on November 21, 1783, the Montgolfier brothers sent up the first human beings to take flight. Deciding not to do it themselves, they sent up two volunteers, one of whom was a major in the French army. A half a million people came to watch in Paris.

One of the people watching was Benjamin Franklin, and when someone asked him what practical purpose this contraption might have, Benjamin Franklin said, "What use is a newborn baby?"

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




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