Sep. 3, 2005


by R. T. Smith

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Poem: "Perfect," by R.T. Smith, inscribed "For Jerome Ward," from Trespasser © Louisiana State University Press. Reprinted with permission.


Preparing the salad,
you said the word
perfect in botany

denotes a species
bisexual and self-sufficient,
while we cut carrot

roots, inflorescence
of broccoli, the ripened
ovaries of olive

and the bulb of the red
onion. Every seed,
you said, holds

an embryo inside. It's
all so simple, and we call
plants primal because

they survive without
devouring one another
and often work their

increase alone. Still, we
never envy the spiral
of cabbage leaves or

a potato's albino eye,
as perfect comes from
the Latin for complete,

and we prefer this
process of emerging,
two imperfect men

happily whittling dinner
for their loved ones,
as windblown pollen

dusts the windows, our
bright knives clicking
on the board.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1967 that Swedish drivers switched lanes and began driving on the right side of the road instead of the left. Sweden was the only other European country to drive on the left besides England, and accidents were commonplace when Swedes crossed the border into Norway, and vice-versa.

It was on this day in 1939 that Great Britain and France declared war on Germany, at 11:00 AM and at 5:00 PM respectively, and what had begun as a German invasion of Poland two days earlier officially became World War II. American journalist William Shirer was covering the war for CBS Radio and wrote: "It has been a lovely September day, the sun shining, the air balmy, the sort of day the Berliner loves to spend in the woods or on the lakes nearby. I walked the streets. On the faces of the people astonishment, depression. Stunned. In Mein Kampf, Hitler says the greatest mistake the Kaiser made was to fight England, and Germany must never repeat that mistake. In 1914, I believe, the excitement in Berlin on the first day of the World War was tremendous. Today, no excitement, no hurrahs, no cheering, no throwing of flowers, no war fever. There is not even any hate for the French and British. Germans cannot realize yet that Hitler has led them into a world war."

It's the birthday of the American architect Louis Henry Sullivan, 1856, Boston. His heyday was in Chicago in the 1880s and 1890s when the city was booming with new immigrants, grain trading, and railroads. Sullivan designed over 100 buildings for the city, including its early skyscrapers—innovations in their day for using a kind of experimental skeleton construction on the inside, and intricate, subtle ornamentation outside.

It's the birthday of writer Sarah Orne Jewett, born 1849 in South Berwick, Maine, best known for her short novel, The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896).

The U.S. War of Independence officially ended on this day in 1783 with the signing of the Treaty of Paris. The war, which began at Lexington and Concord in the spring of 1775, had more or less been over for two years (after Cornwallis surrendered his army at Yorktown), but the American navy continued harassing the British, and by the time the treaty was signed the American fleet had captured dozens of British ships. The treaty required Britain to recognize the independence of the United States and to cede all lands east of the Mississippi to former colonies.

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