Aug. 30, 2005

And the Word

by Richard Jones

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Poem: "And the Word," by Richard Jones, from The Blessing © Copper Canyon Press. Reprinted with permission.

And the Word

I find things inside books
borrowed from the library—
foreign postcards, rose petals,
opera tickets, laundry lists,
and, once, a bloody piece of cloth.

Today, inside a volume
of Cid Corman's elegant poetry,
a snapshot—
a man in a dark nightclub
embracing a red-haired stripper.

The man grabs the woman
brashly about her waist,
displaying her nakedness
to the camera. The flash
illumines the man's flushed face,
his single-minded lust
as he bends to touch
his tongue to her nipple,

while she, arching her back,
coolly turns to the camera,
her face flooded with light,
as if asking, "So,
what do you think
about the book you're reading

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the cartoonist R. Crumb, born in Philadelphia (1943). In 1966, at age 23, he settled in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district, the center of America's "hippie" culture. By the early 1970s, his "Snatch" series, often sexually explicit and graphic in its violence, was tried for obscenity and removed from circulation on both the East and West coasts. He was the creator of many characters, including Fritz the Cat, Angelfood McSpade (a super sex symbol who represented the hidden desires of white civilization), Whiteman, Mr. Natural, and Flakey Foont, who innocently sought easy solutions to the world's most complex problems.

It's the birthday of the children's writer and illustrator Laurent de Brunhoff, born in Paris (1925), the son of the originator of the French Babar the Elephant King books for children. At his father's death, Laurent took over. His father created seven Babar books, and his son created over 40 sequels.

It's the birthday of baseball player Ted Williams, born in San Diego (1918). Williams batted .406 in 1941, and in 1960, at his last at bat for the Boston Red Soxs, hit a home run, recorded by John Updike in a famous piece, "Hub Fans Bid Adieu."

It's the birthday of physicist Ernest Rutherford, born near Nelson, New Zealand (1871), the "pioneer of modern atomic science." He studied and named alpha and beta rays, helped to formulate the transformation theory of radioactivity, identified the alpha particle as a helium nucleus, and proposed the nuclear structure of the atom.

It's the birthday of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, born in London (1797), the only daughter of philosopher William Goodwin and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft. She was not quite 17 years old when she eloped with the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. She is perhaps best known for her gothic novel, written at age 21, Frankenstein, or, The Modern Prometheus (1818).

It was on this day in 30 BC that Queen Cleopatra of Egypt killed herself with a snake she had smuggled into her chamber where she was held captive by Octavian, formerly the political rival of her lover Mark Antony. Octavian had defeated Cleopatra and Antony at the Battle of Actium and had taken Cleopatra prisoner. When Cleopatra learned that Octavian planned to parade her as part of his triumphant return to Rome, she planned her own suicide. For centuries, it was assumed that the snake she used was an asp, but it is now thought that the snake was an Egyptian cobra.

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