Nov. 12, 2005

Modern Maturity

by Jeffrey Skinner

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Poem:"Modern Maturity" by Jeffrey Skinner from Salt Water Amnesia © Ausable Press. Reprinted with permission of the poet.

Modern Maturity

When I quit smoking my sense of smell increased sevenfold. I knew the drop of rain, still
cloud-borne, beginning to think of its fall. Walking on the pier, I sensed the crate of
marjoram and other spices nudged carelessly to the rocks, some two hundred years ago. I
imagined the soft explosion of blonde dust drifting over waves…I can now smell my
wife's moods, which has done wonders for our marriage! Last night I looked at the sky
and, I swear, a clean blue-and-white burning reached me from Orion. Smells, tunneling
back to childhood; thermos of coffee Mom opens on long car trips; the red-headed girl I
loved because she smelled like spaghetti; the rubbery cold bathing suit; pee,
chlorine…My hearing and eyesight are going fast, but my smell is keen as a basset
hound's! In fact, I'm spending more time than ever with my basset hound, Emma. Emma,
I say, donning my deerstalker, Looks very like another day for the woods, what? Oh she
and I wander so happy beneath the canopy, on a trail-less floor of dry leaf, moss, stone.
Everything that has ever befallen the universe, I have discovered, is written there, if only
you know how to read it, and we do, my dog and I, we do.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1969 that the reporter Seymour Hersh broke the story of the My Lai massacre. On March 16, 1968, American soldiers under the command of Lieutenant William Calley marched into the village of My Lai. They had been ordered to destroy the village, because it was supposed to be a Viet Cong stronghold. When they arrived, the Americans found no evidence the any of the villagers were soldiers, but they proceeded to kill almost every man, woman, and child they could find. An Army photographer took a photograph of a trench where the Americans piled up almost six hundred bodies.

One witness to the incident was a helicopter pilot named Hugh Thompson, who flew over the village that day and couldn't understand how there came to be so many dead civilians. When he spotted several elderly adults and children running for shelter, chased by Americans, he landed his chopper between them and ordered the Americans to stand down. He called in gunships to rescue the remaining survivors of the village, and he personally pulled a surviving four-year-old boy out of a pile of bodies.

Thomson was the first person to report the incident to his superiors, but nothing happened. No one was court-martialed. It was another soldier, named Ron Ridenhour, who heard about the incident and vowed to make it public. He interviewed as many men who'd been there that day, and when he got back to the United States he wrote a description of the massacre and sent it to thirty people, including his congressman.

The pentagon initiated an investigation and it charged Lieutenant Calley with the murder of an unknown murder of civilians. But there was no media coverage until freelance reporter Seymour Hersh heard about the incident from a lawyer who had been working with military deserters. He interviewed as many people involved as he could find, and wrote the first article about the incident. But no major magazine would publish it.

So Hersh turned to a tiny news syndicate called the Dispatch News Service, which offered the article to fifty newspapers around the United States and Europe for the price of $100. Thirty-six of the newspapers, including the Boston Globe and the San Francisco Chronicle, chose to run the article on this day in 1969. Hersh went on to write a total of five articles about the massacre and its aftermath, and he won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage.

Twenty-five men were eventually charged with war crimes in connection with the My Lai massacre, including the man who had given the order to attack the village. But only Lieutenant William Calley was convicted. He was sentenced to life imprisonment, but he only spent three days in the stockade before Nixon released him to house arrest, and he was paroled three years later by the Secretary of the Army.

It's the birthday of journalist and short story writer Tracy Kidder, born in New York City (1945). He started out writing fiction but eventually decided that the best use of his talent would be to describe the real world in non-fiction. After a book about a murder trial that he considered a failure, he focused his attention on the growing industry of computers.

He spent eight months living in the basement of Data General Corporation, watching the engineers at work on a new microcomputer, which he wrote about in his book The Soul of a New Machine (1981). It was one of the first non-technical books about the computer industry, and it won the Pulitzer Prize. Kidder went on to write many more books, including House (1985), about the world of carpenters and house building, and Among Schoolchildren (1989), about the education industry. His most recent book is Mountains Beyond Mountains (2003).

It's the birthday of actor and playwright Wallace Shawn, born in New York City (1943).

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




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