Apr. 13, 2008


by Susan Donnelly

He just stood there,
at the corner of 43rd Street
and Sixth Avenue,
nearly seven feet tall,
dressed as a Viking.
Everyone, it seemed,
in New York in the '60s
knew Moondog. They said
he'd been a stockbroker,
from a rich family.
They said he was blind.

I was writing a novel that year,
but didn't know how,
and falling in love,
and everything moved so fast,
but the Viking was motionless.
I know he wrote songs,
but I never heard any.
He just stared outward.
I'd wake up, write myself dizzy,
then go walking, fast,
through the streets.

One day, a stranger
stopped me: JFK had been shot!
This was in midtown. The bells
of St. Patrick's began tolling
and I joined all the others
going up the cathedral steps.
I'd seen the President
just last month — young,
glinting like silver,
in a limousine going up Madison
to the Hotel Carlyle.
He waved to all of us
and we waved back, cheering…

Or are these tears
for the broken love,
the unreadable novel?
Anyway, the years.

"Moondog" by Susan Donnelly, from Transit. © Iris Press, 2001. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Thomas Jefferson, born on his father's plantation in Albemarle County, Virginia (1743).

He was just 33 years old when he was chosen to write the Declaration of Independence. He actually suggested John Adams for the job, but Adams replied, "I am obnoxious, suspected, and unpopular. You are very much otherwise. … [Also] you can write 10 times better than I."

In that founding document, Jefferson wrote the famous words, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." Jefferson hadn't invented the idea of human rights. He was borrowing from contemporary philosophers such as David Hume, Adam Smith, John Locke, and Voltaire. But he was the first person in history to propose founding a new nation on the basis of those human rights.

In addition to being a writer, Jefferson was also a hard-nosed politician, lawyer, naturalist, musician, architect, geographer, inventor, scientist, paleontologist, and philosopher. Jefferson filled his house with scientific gadgets and inventions, collected mastodon bones, and kept detailed notes on the most obscure details of his life, including the daily fluctuation of the barometric pressure. After he missed the start of the solar eclipse in 1811, he designed his own more accurate astronomical clock. He composed all his papers in later life with a device that allowed him to write with two pens at the same time, so that he could keep copies of all the papers he produced.

It's the birthday of the playwright and novelist Samuel Beckett, (books by this author) born in a rich suburb of Dublin called Foxrock (1906). He was an assistant to James Joyce in Paris and then got involved in the French Resistance during World War II. He wanted badly to be a novelist, but he was blocked, and so he decided to try writing a play. As an exercise, he made it as simple as possible: It would be a play about two men, Vladimir and Estragon, waiting for a man named Godot, who never arrives. He finished it in just a few months, faster than he'd ever finished anything he'd ever written. And that was Waiting for Godot (1952). It was first produced in 1952 and became an international sensation.

It's the birthday of Irish poet Seamus Heaney, (books by this author) born in Mossbawn, Northern Ireland (1939). Heaney got his start publishing poems about his childhood memories of farm life. He said, "[It was] an intimate, physical, creaturely existence in which the night sounds of the horse in the stable beyond one bedroom wall mingled with the sounds of adult conversation from the kitchen beyond the other."

It's the birthday of the man who invented the game Scrabble, Alfred M. Butts, born in Poughkeepsie, New York (1899). He trademarked the game in 1949. For the first few years, only a few thousand copies of the game were sold, but in the 1950s the president of Macy's played the game on vacation and got hooked. He ordered more for his store, and Scrabble became a great success.

The game has been beloved by many writers, including the novelist Vladimir Nabokov, who had a special Russian version made for himself and his wife.

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




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