Dec. 12, 2008

Christmas 1963

by Joseph Enzweiler

Because we wanted much that year
and had little. Because the winter phone
for days stayed silent that would call
our father back to work, and he
kept silent too with our mother,
fearfully proud before us.

Because I was young that morning
in gray light untouched on the rug
and our gifts were so few, propped
along the furniture, for a second
my heart fell, then saw how large
they made the spaces between them

to take the place of less. Because
the curtained sun rose brightly
on our discarded paper and the things
themselves, these forty years,
have grown too small to see, the emptiness
measured out remains the gift,

fills the whole room now, that whole year
out across the snowy lawn. Because
a drop of shame burned quietly
in the province of love. Because
we had little that year
and were given much.

"Christmas 1963" by Joseph Enzweiler, from The Man Who Ordered Perch. © Iris Press, 2004. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of French novelist Gustave Flaubert, (books by this author) born in Rouen, France (1821). He's best known for the novel Madame Bovary (1857). He grew up in a middle-class family. His father convinced him to go to law school, but he dropped out. So his father bought him a house on the Seine, and Flaubert devoted the rest of his life to writing. After his father died, he moved back in with his mother, where he lived until he was 50 years old.

He was a perfectionist and spent hours at his writing desk every day. It took him about five years to write Madame Bovary, about the adulterous affair of a provincial housewife. He said, "Be regular and orderly in your life so that you may be violent and original in your work."

Most of Flaubert's novels were unsuccessful — they didn't get good reviews, and they sold poorly. A Sentimental Education (1869) sold fewer than 3,000 copies in its first four years in print. But he became hugely popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, especially among writers like James Joyce.

Flaubert said, "You must not think that feeling is everything. Art is nothing without form."

It's the birthday of Frank Sinatra, born in Hoboken, New Jersey (1915). He was the son of Italian immigrants. He knew early that he wanted to be a singer, and his mother supported his decision to drop out of high school to sing in nightclubs. In 1935, he formed a group called the Three Flashes. But he decided that his best chance was to sing alone, so he quit the group and went back to solo nightclub gigs. In 1939, a trumpet player named Harry James heard Sinatra sing on a local radio station, and signed him for $75 a week.

It's the birthday of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Thomas Powers, (books by this author) born in New York City (1940). He worked for United Press International, and in 1970, at the age of 29, he quit to become a freelance journalist.

That same year, he published a number of articles about the life of Diana Oughton, a young woman from a wealthy, educated background who had joined the Weathermen, the radical wing of the Students for a Democratic Society — and who had died in an explosion at the Greenwich Village townhouse where she helped to manufacture bombs. This series of articles about radicalism among privileged and educated youth earned Powers the Pulitzer Prize in 1971. He expanded the articles into a book, Diana: The Making of a Terrorist (1971).

Powers has written widely about the CIA and military intelligence. He's a regular contributor to The Atlantic Monthly, and his most recent book is The Military Error: Baghdad and Beyond in America's War of Choice (2008).

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