May 17, 2008


by David Lehman

SF stood for Sigmund Freud, or serious folly,
for science fiction in San Francisco, or fear
in the south of France. The system failed.
The siblings fought. So far, such fury,
as if a funereal sequence of sharps and flats
set free a flamboyant signature, sinful, fanatic,
the fire sermon of a secular fundamentalist,
a singular fellow's Symphonie Fantastique.

Students forget the state's favorite son's face.
Sorry, friends, for the screws of fate.
Stage fright seduces the faithful for the subway fare
as slobs fake sobs, suckers flee, salesmen fade.
Sad the fops. Sudden the flip side of fame.
So find the segue. Finish the speculative frame.

"SF" by David Lehman from When a Woman Loves a Man © Scribner, 2005. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

On this day in 1954, the United States Supreme Court announced its decision in the case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. The high Court ruled that racial segregation in the public schools violated the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. The ruling reversed the Court's decision in the 1896 case Plessy v. Ferguson, which established the principal of "separate but equal" public facilities for blacks and whites. The Brown decision said that separate educational facilities for blacks were by their very nature unequal.

It's the birthday of young adult novelist Gary Paulsen, (books by this author) born in Minneapolis, Minnesota (1939). His father was a member of General Patton's staff during World War Two, and his mother worked in a munitions factory, so he was raised mostly by relatives. When he did have a chance to live with his parents, they were constantly on the move because of the demands of military life. He changed schools often, made few friends, and his grades began to slip. It was a trip to a public library, and the help of a friendly librarian, that turned him around. He went on to become a best-selling young adult novelist, and the winner of Newbery Honor Medals for Dogsong (1985), Hatchet (1987), and The Winter Room (1989). He says: "I tell kids to read like a wolf. Read when they tell you not to read; read what they tell you not to read. That gets me in trouble sometimes. A lot of people are upset by the Goosebumps series and all that stuff, but anything that gets kids to read is fine."

It's the birthday of two of the greatest operatic sopranos of the twentieth century: Zinka Milanov, born in Zagreb, Yugoslavia (1906) and Birgit Nilsson, born in West Karup, Sweden (1918). Milanov was known for her roles in Verdi operas, particularly Aida, which she sang with the Metropolitan Opera seventy-five times. Nilsson was known primarily as a Wagnerian soprano, but she was also brilliant in Verdi operas. In 1962, she and Milanov sang Tosca at the Met on back-to-back evenings, both paired with tenor Franco Corelli. After Nilsson's first performance as Aida at the Met, Zinka Milanov climbed into Nilsson's waiting limousine and said: "If Madame Nilsson takes my roles, I must take her Rolls!"

It's the birthday of French composer Erik Satie, born in Honfleur, Calvados, France (1866). The tone for his eccentric career as a musician was set when he dropped out of the Paris Conservatoire to become a café pianist. As a composer, he became known for small piano pieces with titles like Trois morceaux en forme de poire ("Three Pieces in the Shape of a Pear") and Croquis et agaceries d'un gros bonhomme en bois ("Sketches and Exasperations of a Big Wooden Fellow").

It's the birthday of English surgeon Edward Jenner, born in Berkeley, Gloucestershire, England (1749). He's remembered today as the discoverer of the vaccination for smallpox.

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




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
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