Jul. 26, 2006

Days We Would Rather Know

by Michael Blumenthal

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Poem: "Days We Would Rather Know" by Michael Blumenthal from Days We Would Rather Know. © Pleasure Boat Studio. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Days We Would Rather Know

There are days we would rather know
than these, as there is always, later,
a wife we would rather have married
than whom we did, in that severe nowness
time pushed, imperfectly, to then. Whether,
standing in the museum before Rembrandt's "Juno,"
we stand before beauty, or only before a consensus
about beauty, is a question that makes all beauty
suspect ... and all marriages. Last night,
leaves circled the base of the ginkgo as if
the sun had shattered during the night
into a million gold coins no one had the sense
to claim. And now, there are days we would
rather know than these, days when to stand
before beauty and before "Juno" are, convincingly,
the same, days when the shattered sunlight
seeps through the trees and the women we marry
stay interesting and beautiful both at once,
and their men. And though there are days
we would rather know than now, I am,
at heart, a scared and simple man. So I tighten
my arms around the woman I love, now
and imperfectly, stand before "Juno" whispering
beautiful beautiful until I believe it, and—
when I come home at night—I run out
into the day's pale dusk with my broom
and my dustpan, sweeping the coins from the base
of the ginkgo, something to keep for a better tomorrow:
days we would rather know that never come.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Aldous Huxley (books by this author), born in Surrey, England (1894). Huxley's own grandfather, Thomas Henry Huxley, was one of the great scientists of the previous century, a man who helped popularize Darwin's theories of evolution. Huxley's grandfather is believed to be the man who coined the word "agnostic," and he argued that all areas of knowledge would one day come to be understood through science.

Huxley considered becoming a scientist himself, but when he was seventeen years old, he came down with a disease of the eyes, which rendered him almost blind. He learned to read Braille and said he loved it because he could read in bed without getting his hands cold. But since most of his schoolbooks had never been translated into Braille, he had to finish his education by reading everything with a giant magnifying glass. Despite that, his friends all agreed that he was the best-read guy they knew.

His first successful novel was Point Counter Point (1928), about a group of artists and intellectuals who don't realize that one of the men in their company is a budding fascist revolutionary. Point Counter Point was Huxley's first best-seller, and since it had been so ambitious a book, Huxley decided that his next book would be something light. He had been reading some H.G. Wells, and thought it might be fun to try to write some science fiction.

The result was Brave New World (1932), about a future in which most human beings are born in test-tube factories, genetically engineered. It was one of the first novels to predict the future existence of genetic engineering, test-tube babies, anti-depression medication, and virtual reality.

Aldous Huxley said, "An intellectual is a person who has discovered something more interesting than sex."

It's the birthday of Carl Jung (books by this author), born in Kesswil, Switzerland (1875). He was the founder of analytic psychology. He noticed that myths and fairy tales from all kinds of different cultures have certain similarities. He called these similarities archetypes, and he believed that archetypes come from a collective unconscious that all humans share. He said that if people get in touch with these archetypes in their own lives, they will be happier and healthier.

He said, "Show me a sane man and I will cure him for you."

It's the birthday of playwright George Bernard Shaw (books by this author), born in Dublin, Ireland (1856), one of Britain's greatest playwrights. His most famous play is Pygmalion (1913), about a cockney girl who learns to pass for a lady.

It was on this day in 1942 that William Faulkner (books by this author) took a job writing with Warner Brothers pictures. His novels had not sold well. He'd just bought a big old house with no electricity or plumbing, and the cost of restoring it immediately began to drain what little income he had. Hollywood helped him pay the bills.

Faulkner was such a character in Hollywood that people in the movie industry were telling stories about him for years after he had gone. There was one story that after he had moved back to Mississippi, someone went through Faulkner's old writing desk and found a piece of paper with just the words "boy meets girl" typed over and over again.

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