Aug. 25, 2008

The Sorrows

by Gary Fincke

Whatever the Sunday, the sorrows kept the women in the kitchen,
My cousins and their mothers, my grandmother, her sister, all of them
Foraging through the nerves for pain. They sighed and rustled and one would
Name her sorrows to cue sympathy's murmurs, the first offerings
Of possible cures: three eggs for chills and fever, the benefits
Of mint and pepper, boneset, sage, and crocus tea. Nothing they
Needed came over-the-counter of through prescriptions not bearing
A promise from God, who blessed the home remedies handed down
From lost villages of Germany for the aunt with dizzy spells,
For the uncle with the steady pain of private swelling; for passed blood,
For discharge and the sweet streak from the shoulder. In the pantry,
Among pickled beets and stewed tomatoes, were dark, honeyed liquids,
The vinegar and molasses sipped from tablespoons for sorrows
So regular they spoke of them as laundry to be smoothed by the great iron
Of faith which sets creases worthy of paradise. And there, when only
A hum came clear, they might have been speaking from clouds like the dead,
But what mattered when the room went dark were the voices reaching into
The lamp-lit living room of men who listened then, watching the doorway
And nodding at the nostrums offered by the tongues of the unseen
As if the sorrows were soothed by the lost dialect of the soul,
Which whispered to the enormous ache of the imminent.

"The Sorrows" by Gary Fincke from The Fire Landscape: Poems. © University of Arkansas Press, 2008. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of journalist and novelist Frederick Forsyth (1938), (books by this author) born in Ashford, Kent, England. When he was just a student in Kent, Forsyth learned to speak French, German, Spanish, and Russian. At 17, he quit school and left home to see the world. He learned to fly a plane and joined the Royal Air Force as England's youngest pilot. And he set out to write thrillers like The Day of the Jackal (1971), The Odessa File (1972), The Devil's Alternative (1980), and The Fourth Protocol (1984).

He wrote The Day of the Jackal (1971), his first book, in 35 days. It was based on the Algerian Crisis in early 1960s when French President Charles de Gaulle proclaimed Algeria independent from France. Feeling betrayed, leaders of France's Secret Army Organization plotted to kill de Gaulle. The assassin's code name was "Jackal."

When The Dogs of War was finished, Forsyth had fulfilled his contract (for three books) with his publisher. He thought his writing career was over. He said, "I just don't like writing....I'm not a compulsive writer, never was, never could be. I don't need the bread any more. Let's see — compulsion, money—those are the only two reasons to go through the hell of trying to fill 500 blank sheets of paper."

His latest book, The Afghan, came out in 2006.

It's the birthday of conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein, born in Lawrence, Massachusetts (1918).

His father was a Russian immigrant. He bought and sold beauty supplies, and he discouraged his son from being a musician in favor of taking over the family business. When he was 10, his Aunt Clara was going through a divorce, and she sent her piano to the Bernstein home. Leonard became a pianist. He got an assistantship with the New York Philharmonic. And on a Sunday afternoon, November 14, 1943, when the conductor Bruno Walter got sick, Leonard Bernstein filled in and got a great review on page one of The New York Times. He became a celebrity at the age of 25.

He wrote scores for many musicals, including "On the Town," "Wonderful Town," "Candide," and "West Side Story."

Bernstein also wrote a book called "The Joy of Music" (1959), a collection of essays and conversations about music. In it, he wrote, "Music, of all the arts, stands in a special region, unlit by any star but its own, and utterly without meaning ... except its own."

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