Dec. 24, 2005


by Albert Garcia

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Poem: "Cooling" by Albert Garcia from Skunk Talk. © Bear Star Press.


If I closed my eyes
and focused on the gritty—smooth
pleasure of pear in my mouth
and listened to your voice
humming to our daughter,
your attempt to soothe her
into sleep—if I had simply held
that pear flesh with my tongue,
letting it dissolve, savoring it
like a memory,
if your notes could linger
longer between these rooms—
if you would come in
after the child is asleep
and share with me
the last few bites
before we turn in, if you would
hum to me something old—
if I could keep this evening
in a drawer
that when opened would release
a breeze like the one outside, the one
that has been there all day
moving the curtains
but which is now finally cooling

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's Christmas Eve, and it was on this day in 1914 that the last known Christmas truce occurred, during World War I. German troops fighting in Belgium began decorating their trenches and singing Christmas carols. Their enemy, the British, soon joined in the caroling. The war was put on hold, and the soldiers greeted each other in "No Man's Land," exchanging gifts of whiskey and cigars. In many areas, the truce held until Christmas night, while in other places the truce did not end until New Year's Day. In one area, the opposing sides played a soccer match together.

British commanders Sir John French and Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien disapproved of the truce, and they ordered artillery bombardments on Christmas Eve in the remaining years of the war. Troops were also rotated with regularity to keep them from growing too familiar with the enemy troops in the close quarters of trench warfare. The Christmas truce was a war tradition of the 19th century, and its disappearance marked the end of wartime protocols of that time.

It's the birthday of journalist I.F. (Isidor Feinstein) Stone, born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1907). He got his first job as a newspaper reporter when he was still in high school, and eventually dropped out of college in order to work as a fulltime reporter. He bounced around various jobs at left-wing daily newspapers in New York City, especially the New York Post. He also worked for The Nation magazine.

In 1952, Stone was working for the New York Daily Compass when that paper folded. It was the height of the Red Scare, and suddenly Stone was too left-wing to get a job. Desperate to find some sort of journalistic income, Stone decided to go into business for himself. With his wife's help, an investment of $6,500 and the mailing list from two defunct liberal newspapers, he launched I. F. Stone's Weekly, which he called, "My very own little flea-bit publication."

The I.F. Stone Weekly was basically just a four page pamphlet written by Stone, examining and criticizing the activities in Washington. What made Stone revolutionary was that he didn't try to interview Washington officials to get the inside scoop. Instead, he just read Washington documents. He found that if you actually read the documents put out by the pentagon and compared them to what the politicians were saying, you could uncover all kinds of dishonesty.

Over time, Stone became a hero to many investigative journalists, and the circulation of his one-man newsletter soared to 70,000. Stone's columns were collected in such books as The Haunted Fifties (1963), In a Time of Torment (1967), and Polemics and Prophecies, 1967-1970 (1971).

I.F. Stone said, "Some people become radical out of hatred. Others become radical out of love and sympathy. I come out of the second class. I have hated very few people... I have faith, despite the imperfections of the human race, that a better society, a better world, a more just world, a kindlier world can come into being."

It's the birthday of the mystery writer Mary Higgins Clark, born in New York City (1929). She worked as a secretary in an advertising agency for three years. She spent a year as a stewardess, flying around Europe and Asia. Clark began taking writing classes at New York University. Then, in 1964, Clark's husband died of a heart attack, just as her father had. She suddenly had to support the family by herself, and so she began writing radio scripts, and eventually decided to write books.

She was inspired by a newspaper article about a woman accused of murdering her own children, and she began a suspense novel about a woman who's the chief suspect in her children's disappearance. When she finished the book, it was turned down by several publishers because they said that a novel about children in jeopardy would upset women readers. But when it finally came out in 1975, Where Are the Children? (1975) became a huge bestseller. And all of her novels have been best-sellers ever since.

It's the birthday of the poet who wrote "Dover Beach," Matthew Arnold, born in Middlesex, England (1822).

It was on this day in 1814 that the Treaty of Ghent was signed at Ghent, Belgium, an agreement intended to end the War of 1812.

It was on this day in 1801 that the steam engine transported its first passengers, in London, England. Richard Trevithick invented the high-pressure steam engine in 1800, and built the carriage used in London on Christmas Eve the following year. By 1804, he had constructed a steam locomotive for use in Wales, the first of its kind.

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