Nov. 5, 2006


by Anne Sexton

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Poem: "Doctors" by Anne Sexton, from The Awful Rowing Toward God. © Houghton Mifflin Company. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)


They work with herbs
and penicillin.
They work with gentleness
and the scalpel.
They dig out the cancer,
close an incision
and say a prayer
to the poverty of the skin.
They are not Gods
though they would like to be;
they are only human
trying to fix up a human.
Many humans die.
They die like the tender,
palpitating berries
in November.
But all along the doctors remember:
First do no harm.
They would kiss if it would heal.
It would not heal.

If the doctors cure
then the sun sees it.
If the doctors kill
then the earth hides it.
The doctors should fear arrogance
more than cardiac arrest.
If they are too proud,
and some are,
then they leave home on horseback
but God returns them on foot.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of one of America's first muckraking journalists, Ida Tarbell, (books by this author) born in Hatch Hallow, Pennsylvania (1857). Her book The History of the Standard Oil Company (1904) was one of the first works of journalism ever to bring down a major American corporation.

She grew up in an oil boom town near Cleveland, Pennsylvania. Her father owned an oil refinery, and she grew up listening to him complain about the growing influence of a man named John D. Rockefeller, the owner of Standard Oil, who was slowly buying up all the oil refineries in the city or driving them out of business.

Tarbell went on to become a journalist, and she got a job at McClure's Magazine, where the editor, S.S. McClure wanted his journalists uncover corruption and public abuse in American life. Ida Tarbell volunteered to take on Standard Oil, the company that had made her father's life so difficult.

For two years, she interviewed everyone in the Pennsylvania oil industry who would talk to her, and she read every document she could get her hands on. It was Mark Twain who put her in touch with a Standard Oil insider named Henry Rogers, who provided her with all kinds of incriminating detail and evidence that Standard Oil was secretly colluding with railroad companies to charge smaller refineries higher rates to drive them out of business. She wrote 19 articles in all, and that exposé made her one of the most famous journalists in the country. Among her biggest fans was President Theodore Roosevelt, who went on to coin the term "muckrakers."

John D. Rockefeller tried to ignore Ida Tarbell's work at first. Then he said she was merely "misguided." Finally, he began calling her "Miss Tarbarrel." But it didn't help. After her articles were collected into the book The History of the Standard Oil Company, the federal government began its antitrust prosecution of Standard Oil. The break up of the company was finally decided by the Supreme Court on May 15, 1911.

Ida Tarbell said, "A mind which really lays hold of a subject is not easily detached from it."

It's the birthday of actor and playwright Sam Shepard, (books by this author) born in Fort Sheridan, Illinois (1943). Shepard grew up in the small town of Durante, California. His father was an abusive alcoholic. Shepard said that one of his father's rules was, "You weren't allowed to have any feelings." One night his father came home late and found the front door locked, so he tore the door right off the house. Sam Shepard left home the next day. He made his way all the way from California to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where he got a job with a traveling theater troupe.

Shepard said, "That was one of the most exciting times of my life. ... We never spent more than one or two nights in the same place and our stages were always the altars of churches. ... We crisscrossed New England, up into Maine and Vermont. The country amazed me, having come from a place that was brown and hot and covered with Taco stands. Finally we hit New York City and I couldn't believe it. I'd always thought of the 'big city' as Pasadena and the Rose Parade. I was mesmerized by this place."

He got involved in the burgeoning Off Off Broadway theater scene in New York City. He was working as a busboy at a Greenwich Village cabaret when he learned that one of the head waiters had just founded a new experimental theater, which eventually produced his first play, Cowboys (1964).

It's the birthday of the "King of the Cowboys," Roy Rogers, born Leonard Franklin Slye in Cincinnati, Ohio (1911). When he was 18 he moved with his mother and father to California, where he earned money by harvesting fruit and working as a cowhand. He started playing guitar and singing in small theaters and on the radio in the 1930s. He met Bob Nolan and Tim Spencer, and they started the Sons of the Pioneers. The band made appearances in several motion pictures.

Rogers's first screen name was "Dick Weston." He changed it to Roy Rogers just before he got his first big break, replacing Gene Autry in the movie Under Western Stars (1938). The movie was a hit, and it launched Rogers's steady film career as a singing cowboy.

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




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