Aug. 27, 2006


by Howard Nemerov

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Poem: "Monet" by Howard Nemerov from The Selected Poems of Howard Nemerov. (Swallow Press). (buy now)


Unable to get into the Monet show,
Too many people there, too many cars,
We spent the Sunday morning at Bowl Pond
A mile from the Museum, where no one was,
And walked an hour or so around the rim
Beside five acres of flowering waterlilies
Lifting three feet above their floating pads
Huge yellow flowers heavy on bending stems
In various phases of array and disarray
Of Petals packed, unfolded, opening to show
The meaty orange centers that become,
When the ruined flags fall away, green shower heads
Spilling their wealth of seed at summer's end
Into the filthy water among small fish
Mud-colored and duck moving explorative
Through jungle pathways opened among the fronds
Upon whose surface water drops behave
Like mercury, collecting in heavy silver coins
Instead of bubbles; some few redwinged blackbirds
Whistling above all this once in a while,
The silence else unbroken all about.

Literary and Historical Notes:

The Chinese philosopher Confucius (books by this author) was born on today's date in 551 B.C. Confucius taught his followers to love others, to honor one's parents, to lead by example, and to treat others as you would like to be treated. He said, "Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life."

It's the birthday of Theodore Dreiser, (books by this author) born in Terre Haute, Indiana, in 1871. Dreiser was a novelist known for writing realistic books like Sister Carrie (1900) and An American Tragedy (1925). He grew up working on the family farm. He needed to support himself financially at a young age, and so he was forced to leave college early. He went to Chicago to make a living as a journalist. He considered journalism an art form, as well as a first step into the world of literature. He began intensely studying literature, and took a special interest in the French writer Balzac, who he said opened a new door for him in his life. After years of writing on his own, publishers finally began to accept his manuscripts.

Today is the birthday of jazz saxophonist Lester Young, born in Woodsville, Mississippi (1909). He was the oldest child in a very musical family. His father taught music to all of the children and the family toured around the country giving concerts.

Lester eventually went to New Orleans, where he found jazz great Count Basie. He rose to fame playing with the Basie band and maintained a personal and professional relationship with Count Basie throughout his life. Young was also friends with Billie Holiday, whom he met when he was staying at the apartment of Holiday's mother. Lester Young and Billie Holiday had a very close personal relationship, although it was never romantic.

The most famous musical collaboration between Young and Holiday happened during a television performance of Holiday's song "Fine and Mellow." Young and Holiday had been arguing and were not speaking to each other. Holiday's heroin habit had begun to catch up with her. She was so weak that she could not even stand up to sing during the performance. When it came time for Young's solo in the middle of the song, he stood up from his chair to play. He played a moving solo that one audience member called "the sweetest blues I have ever heard come out of a horn." After the performance the two jazz legends reconciled their differences.

It's the birthday of former U.S. President Lyndon Baines Johnson, (books by this author) born in Stonewall, Texas (1908), into a family that included several politicians. He started his political career early when he entered the National Youth Administration in Texas. He got elected to Congress, where he was a workaholic. He eventually became John F. Kennedy's vice president, and became president when JFK was assassinated in 1963. In 2001, a book of transcriptions of LBJ's White House conversations was published, Reaching for Glory, edited by Michael Beschloss. The tapes were made in 1964 and 1965, and they reveal Johnson's enormous misgivings about the war in Vietnam.

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