Apr. 6, 2008


by Anne Porter

Nobody in the hospital
Could tell the age
Of the old woman who
Was called Susanna

I knew she spoke some English
And that she was an immigrant
Out of a little country
Trampled by armies

Because she had no visitors
I would stop by to see her
But she was always sleeping

All I could do
Was to get out her comb
And carefully untangle
The tangles in her hair

One day I was beside her
When she woke up
Opening small dark eyes
Of a surprising clearness

She looked at me and said
You want to know the truth?
I answered Yes

She said it's something that
My mother told me

There's not a single inch
Of our whole body
That the Lord does not love

She then went back to sleep.

"Susanna" by Anne Porter, an excerpt from Living Things, published by Zoland Books, an imprint of Steerforth Press of Hanover, New Hampshire. © 2006 Anne Porter. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

On this day in 1327, one of the most important events in the history of poetry took place: The Italian poet Petrarch saw the woman he called Laura for the first time (books by this author). He would go on to write dozens of sonnets to Laura, providing a model for generations of sonnet-writers, including Shakespeare. She was beautiful, with long golden hair and dark eyes, and he fell in love with her at first sight.

Petrarch spent the rest of his life working on a book of sonnets about Laura, which was only published in 1374, almost 50 years after Petrarch saw Laura for the first time. He declared his love for her, but she never returned it, which meant that he was able to write great poems about unrequited love his entire life. The kind of poems he wrote have come to be known as Petrarchan sonnets, poems of 14 lines divided by their rhymes into one section of eight lines and one section of six.

Most historians now think Petrarch's Laura was Laura de Noves, the wife of a nobleman named Hugues de Sade. She died on April 6, 1348, 21 years after Petrarch had first seen her.

He wrote:
"She ruled in beauty o'er this heart of mine,
A noble lady in a humble home,
And now her time for heavenly bliss has come,
'Tis I am mortal proved, and she divine."

It's the birthday of the Shoshone woman Sacajawea, born in Idaho (1786), who served as interpreter for Lewis and Clark's expedition (1804). Born to a Shoshone chief, kidnapped at 10 by the Hidatsa tribe, and sold into slavery, she was then bought by a French Canadian trapper named Charbonneau, who married her. When Lewis and Clark hired Charbonneau to guide them to the Pacific, his teenage wife — with her two-month-old baby on her back — was part of the package. Officially she acted as interpreter, speaking half a dozen Indian languages, but she also knew which wilderness plants were edible and saved the explorers' records when their boat overturned. She served as camp cook, housekeeper, and peacemaker with the watchful tribes they met along their way.

It's the birthday of geneticist James Dewey Watson, born in Chicago (1928), who, with Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins, was awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize for the discovery of the molecular structure of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid).

It's the birthday of country singer Merle Haggard, born in Bakersfield, California (1937).

It's the birthday of pianist and conductor André Previn, born in Berlin (1929), where, in 1938, he was kicked out of the Berlin Conservatory for being Jewish. His family went immediately to Paris and waited for their American visas. They settled in Los Angeles; his father's cousin, Charles Previn, was Music Director at Universal Studios. Young André thought jazz "was men in funny hats playing in a hotel band" until he heard an Art Tatum record. While still a teenager, he became a gifted jazz pianist and orchestrator, and he worked as an arranger for several major film studios. He became a noted classical pianist, as well, and started conducting. His musical arrangements for films of Broadway musicals have won him four Academy Awards.

It's the birthday of writer Alice Bach, (books by this author) born in New York, New York (1942). Her first novel, They'll Never Make a Movie Starring Me (1973), is a story for young adults about the adventures of a young student at an all-girls boarding school in Wellesley, Massachusetts, and was based loosely on Bach's own school experiences. Bach's novel Waiting for Johnny Miracle (1980) was inspired by her two years of experience working with young teens at a New York cancer research institute. "It represents a promise I made to the kids to tell people what it is really like for children who have life-threatening illnesses and not the mush sentimental versions we usually see in books and movies."

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