Sep. 19, 2007

Letter to N.Y.

by Elizabeth Bishop

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Poem: "Letter to N.Y." by Elizabeth Bishop from The Complete Poems 1927-1979. © Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Letter to N.Y.
For Louise Crane

In your next letter I wish you'd say
where you are going and what you are doing;
how are the plays, and after the plays
what other pleasures you're pursuing:

taking cabs in the middle of the night,
driving as if to save your soul
where the road goes round and round the park
and the meter glares like a moral owl,

and the trees look so queer and green
standing alone in big black caves
and suddenly you're in a different place
where everything seems to happen in waves,

and most of the jokes you just can't catch,
like dirty words rubbed off a slate,
and the songs are loud but somehow dim
and it gets so terribly late,

and coming out of the brownstone house
to the gray sidewalk, the watered street,
one side of the buildings rises with the sun
like a glistening field of wheat.

—Wheat, not oats, dear. I'm afraid
if it's wheat it's none of your sowing,
nevertheless I'd like to know
what you are doing and where you are going.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Roger Angell, (books by this author) born in New York City (1920), who went to baseball games with his father as a kid and got to see Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig hit back-to-back home runs. He grew up reading the sports sections of four newspapers. His mother, Katherine White, was an editor at The New Yorker. Angell took a job as fiction editor there in 1956, and in 1962 he began writing about baseball. Angell said, "[Baseball is] perfect for a writer, so full of specifics. ... One trap in writing about baseball is excessive nostalgia. I think it may be because we all came to the game through our fathers and at a time when we were children and everything in the world seemed good. But the quality of most experience is not confined to when we were young. Tomorrow I could see the best game I'll ever see." His most recent book is a collection of personal essays, Let Me Finish, which came out last year (2006).

It was on this day in 1991 that a 5,300-year-old corpse was found frozen in a glacier in the Alps, between Austria and Italy, the most ancient human being ever found completely intact. He was between 25 and 35 years old, about five feet, two inches tall. His hair was cut; he had several tattoos. He wore a fur robe, whipstitched in a mosaic pattern, a woven grass cape, and size 6 shoes. He carried a copper axe and a fur quiver for his arrows, which had sharp flint points and feathers to make the arrows spin in flight, and several mushrooms strung on leather cord, a mushroom known to fight infections. But the mushrooms didn't do him much good because he had an arrowhead in his back. He was apparently murdered.

It's the anniversary of the day in 1846 that poets Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning eloped, after a ferocious courtship in which they wrote 574 letters back and forth in just 20 months. Barrett's father was opposed to her marrying anybody, so she and Robert eloped and went to Florence and her father never spoke to her again.

It's the birthday of the man who wrote Lord of the Flies (1954), William Golding, (books by this author) born in Cornwall, England (1911). He wrote Lord of the Flies after fighting in some of the bloodiest battles of World War II. The novel tells the story of a group of boys stranded on a desert island who struggle for survival. One of the boys tries to establish a democracy, but a bunch of boys break off from the main group and it turns into violent anarchy. The book was rejected by 21 publishers before it finally came out in 1954.

It was on this day in 1995 that The New York Times and The Washington Post published the Unabomber's Manifesto. The Unabomber had murdered and injured several people around the country with homemade bombs, including some that he sent through the mail. He promised that he would stop the bombings if his manifesto could be published in a major publication. The manifesto was a 35,000-word broadside against technology. The first line read, "The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race." There was a lot of controversy about the decision to publish it, but the FBI hoped that it might produce some leads. And in fact, a man named David Kaczynski happened to read it, and he was horrified to recognize it as the work of his brother, Ted. David contacted authorities and turned his brother, Ted Kaczynski, in to the FBI.

Ted Kaczynski was a 55-year-old former Berkeley math professor. He had attended Harvard, taught at Berkeley, and spent 26 years living in a rural cabin in Lincoln, Montana. When federal authorities arrested him there in April of 1996, they found piles of writings and letters, as well as bomb-making ingredients. Kaczynski pled guilty to all charges and is now serving a life sentence without possibility of parole.

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