Dec. 27, 2006

Careless World

by Louise Katz

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Poem: "Careless World" by Louise Katz, from Isobar. © Chapiteau Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Careless World

This is a careless world without your voice.
Courtesy is gone; nobody tips their hats.
There is no one to name the shrubs and birds,
To suggest a heavier coat.
You watched while I stood by the window
Saying goodbye to Sixth Avenue.
The pavement was always being torn away.
Watching the hammers
I kissed the glass four times;
Once for you and mother
And Richard and me.
You knew that four was a special number,
My number for watching things end.
You, at the door, made the room mine.
In five months I have lost your voice.
Its tone, a clearing throat;
Trailing off, "be a good girl."

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the man credited for proving that disease is caused by germs: Louis Pasteur born in Dole, France (1822). He was a scientist who specialized in the properties of acids when, one day, a local distillery owner asked him to figure out why the fermentation of beet sugar into alcohol sometimes failed. At the time, people knew about the existence of microbes, but most scientists thought they were insignificant oddities. By studying the process of fermentation under a microscope, Pasteur discovered that the process is a result of microbes digesting their food. And he found that fermentation failed when another type of microorganism interfered with the process.

Pasteur became one of the first scientists to grow cultures of bacteria and study their effects on nature. He began to theorize that microbes might be responsible for all kinds of things, from spoiled wine and milk to the decomposition of dead animals. He showed that milk and wine could be preserved for longer periods simply by heating them just enough to kill off the microbes. The process became known as pasteurization, and it revolutionized the food industry. He went on to develop the first vaccines for anthrax, cholera, and rabies. He is now regarded as the father of bacteriology. It's because of him that our mothers started teaching us to wash our hands before dinner.

Louis Pasteur said, "Science knows no country, because knowledge belongs to humanity, and is the torch which illuminates the world."

It's the birthday of author Louis Bromfield, born in Mansfield, Ohio (1896). He served in World War I, and then took his family on a vacation to France, and wound up staying there for 13 years. He became part of the expatriate society in Paris, and some of his best friends were Edith Wharton and Gertrude Stein.

And it was while he was living away from America that he wrote his novel The Farm (1933), which many consider his masterpiece, about a boy growing up on a farm that his family has owned for generations, which slowly becomes corrupted by greed and industrialization.

Bromfield finally returned to his home state of Ohio in 1938, and he decided to buy three rundown farms whose soil had been exhausted by bad farming practices. He instituted new scientific, sustainable farming techniques and restored the fertility of the land, reforested the surrounding area, and produced healthy livestock and wildlife. He continued to write novels and screenplays for the rest of his life, but he devoted most of his energy to writing books of nonfiction about his farm as a kind of agricultural laboratory, including Pleasant Valley (1945) and Malabar Farm (1948).

It was on this day in 1831 that Charles Darwin set sail from England on the HMS Beagle, beginning the journey that would take him to the Galapagos Islands and inspire his theory of evolution.

It's the birthday of novelist and playwright Zona Gale, (books by this author) born in Portage, Wisconsin (1874). She wrote more than 30 novels, plays, and collections in her lifetime, but she is probably best known for the novel-turned-play Miss Lulu Bett, which won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1921.

It's the birthday of novelist and essayist Wilfrid Sheed, (books by this author) born in London, England (1930). He traveled back and forth between England and the United States as he was growing up, and it made him feel like a foreigner wherever he was. He went to Oxford for college and wrote his first novel about it, called A Middle Class Education (1961). He has written several satirical novels about the business of journalism, including The Hack (1963) about a miserable man who writes uplifting poems and stories for a Catholic magazine. Most recently, he has written several memoirs, including My Life as a Fan (1993), about his love of baseball, and In Love with Daylight: A Memoir of Recovery (1995).

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