Sep. 29, 2008


by Coleman Barks

The internet says science is not sure
how cats purr, probably
a vibration of the whole larynx,
unlike what we do when we talk.

Less likely, a blood vessel
moving across the chest wall.

As a child I tried to make every cat I met
purr. That was one of the early miracles,
the stroking to perfection.

Here is something I have never heard:
a feline purrs in two conditions,
when deeply content and when
mortally wounded, to calm themselves,
readying for the death-opening.

The low frequency evidently helps
to strengthen bones and heal
damaged organs.

Say poetry is a human purr,
vessel mooring in the chest,
a closed-mouthed refuge, the feel
of a glide through dying.

One winter morning on a sunny chair,
inside this only body,
a far-off inboard motorboat
sings the empty room, urrrrrrrhhhh

"Purring" by Coleman Barks from Winter Sky: New and Selected Poems, 1968–2008. © University of Georgia Press, 2008. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of the man who wrote what we consider to be the first modern novel. That man is Miguel de Cervantes, (books by this author) born near Madrid (1547). When he was 24, he joined the Spanish Armada and fought at the Battle of Lepanto. He wounded his left hand in the battle, and he never regained its full use again. He was captured and enslaved by pirates. Eventually, he returned home, only to be put into jail there for fraud. While he was in prison, he began his most famous work, Don Quixote (1605). It's a story about a man who reads too many books about chivalry, goes mad, and tries to restore old-fashioned heroism to the world.

It was on this day in 1982 that the first deaths in a series of "Tylenol killings" were reported in the Chicago area. The first victim, a 12-year-old girl, had awakened one morning with a sore throat and taken from her parents one Extra Strength Tylenol capsule. A couple of hours later, her parents found the girl lying on the bathroom floor and rushed her to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

Later that day, paramedics were summoned to the home of a postal worker in his mid-20s, Adam Janus. They found him also lying on the floor. They took him to the hospital, and he died there shortly after. Some his relatives had gathered at his house to comfort each other and discuss the arrangements for his funeral. Adam's brother and his brother's wife both were suffering from headaches, and each took a capsule of Extra Strength Tylenol from the bottle sitting on the counter of Adam's kitchen. After just a little while, they collapsed onto the kitchen floor. They both died in the hospital.

Within a week, there had been seven sudden and suspicious deaths in the Chicago area. A couple of firefighters were sitting around discussing the strange nature of the circumstances surrounding the deaths. One of the firefighters suggested that the perhaps the girl's death was somehow related to the fact that she took Tylenol earlier that day. A toxicologist examined the contents of the Tylenol bottles and found that they each contained several capsules that had been laced with cyanide. On October 5th, the makers of Tylenol recalled 31 million bottles. Chicago-area authorities investigated local businesses that sold Tylenol and found that six stores in the area had on their shelves bottles containing cyanide-laced Tylenol capsules.

Authorities were never able to find the killer. They suspected a man who worked on the docks at a warehouse from which some of the poisoned Tylenol was shipped, and who had at his apartment an instructional book on stuffing cyanide into capsules — as well as one-way plane tickets to Thailand. Despite this circumstantial evidence, though, police could not prove that he was the killer.

A series of copycat attacks followed a few years later, including ones that resulted in deaths in Washington state. Stella Nickell poisoned her husband. In order to make it appear as if her husband had been killed by a serial poisoner such as the elusive Tylenol killer, Stella Nickell had placed other bottles of cyanide-laced Excedrin in surrounding Washington stores. She was convicted and sentenced to 90 years in prison.

Today most over-the-counter pharmaceuticals come in carefully sealed, tamper-proof bottles.

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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