Mar. 12, 2006


by Thomas Lux

SUNDAY, 12 MARCH, 2006
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Poem: "Fundamental" by Thomas Lux from Split Horizon © Thomas Lux. Reprinted with permission.


Acts of God,
the insurance people, whose business depends
on fear of them,
call them: hurricane, monsoon, cyclone,
whirlwind—when your house bears
the branches' lash, big winds
lift and slam the clapboards.
Little spiders, spirit receptors,
living in the walls or swinging
above the sills, sense it
first, are humble. The fiery,
the fundamental God
is mad, again. He gets that way,
decides to smash or flood
and it's no use to build a sandbag wall
around your acre, to try to divert
the torrents via channel
dug by hand. Or, he says: No water,
not a drop. I'll burn
their legumes to dust,
swell and crack their black black tongues.
Oh no—fire ants, weevil, mouse plague,
locusts: with a hundred neighbors
we'll beat the fields with rakes
and brooms—hopeless, hopeless—but our effort
saves a few more loaves
for winter—until God gives them mold: cold and
hungry, He says. He says: These bugs
are tiny and bad,
mostly, I don't like their habits—so greedy,
mean, what'll shape them up
is fire and noise, their fields
I'll burn and barren,
what they need are heaps of pumice,
ash up to their ears,
and their sky, under my feet,
their sky, bloody and wracked, I'll split with howls.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the anniversary of the Blizzard of 1888, known as "The Great White Hurricane," one of the worst in American history. It came unexpectedly, after a warm spell. It lasted for thirty-six hours, killed more than four hundred people and dropped forty inches of snow on New York City. Drifts piled up to second-story windows.

On this day in 1901 industrialist Andrew Carnegie gave New York City 5.2 million dollars to construct sixty-five libraries. He had just sold the Carnegie Steel Company to J. P. Morgan for 250 million dollars, and decided to retire and devote himself to giving it all away. He later gave money to create more than 2,500 libraries all over the United States and in Britain. He said, "The man who enters a library is in the best society this world affords; the good and the great welcome him, surround him, and humbly ask to be allowed to become his servants."

It's the birthday of poet and children's author Naomi Shihab Nye, born in St. Louis, Missouri (1952). She has published several books of poetry, including 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East (2002) and Hugging the Jukebox (1982).

Nye says, "Since my father was Palestinian, from Jerusalem, and my mother was American, our house in St. Louis held rich fragrances of cardamom, garlic, and olive oil. Shihab means shooting star in Arabic. I liked that. Languages danced together in our rooms and interesting people drifted through our doors. I used to think, 'We're still waiting for a dull moment.'"

It's the birthday of Jack Kerouac, born Jean-Louise Kerouac, in Lowell Massachusetts (1922). He grew up speaking French, and couldn't speak English fluently until junior high. He was strong and athletic; he played football and he was good at it. In the Thanksgiving game of his senior year in high school he scored a game-winning touchdown—the ball was tipped, he stretched out and grabbed it inches from the ground, and smashed his way into the end zone. The fans went crazy, and there were college scouts there who got him an athletic scholarship to Columbia University. In the college newspaper they called him a "fleet-footed backfield ace," but he broke his leg early on and never played again.

But he became friends with other like-minded writers, including William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. He took a series of cross-country road trips with his friend Neal Cassady. In 1949 they drove a Cadillac limousine from California to Chicago, going over 100 miles an hour on two-lane roads until the speedometer broke. In 1951 he sat at his kitchen table, taped sheets of Chinese art paper together to make a long roll, and wrote the story of Cassady and their trips. It had no paragraphs and very little punctuation and Allen Ginsberg called it "a magnificent single paragraph several blocks long, rolling, like the road itself." And that became his novel On the Road (1957).

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