Dec. 21, 2008

A Christmas Poem

by Miller Williams

In a little bar on the Gulf Coast
someone offers a Christmas toast.
The piano player, believe it or not,
plays "As Time Goes By." Almost.

The bartender brings over a lot
of nuts and crackers. I have a shot
of Jack to get me on my way.
After a while, it's What have you got?

A drunk counts out some coins to pay
for a bottle of wine. He stops to say,
How are you doing? The syllables stink.
I lift my glass to say, I'm OK.

Out of the corner what I think
is a man in a wig and a ratty mink
weaves his way across the floor
and buys the piano player a drink.

At a table for two close to the door
a man seems to mean to ignore
a woman chewing a wad of gum.
The bartender brings me a couple more.

The piano player plays us some
of what the season wants. We hum
along and call for more and then
a man at the bar takes his thumb

out of his mouth and says there are ten
minutes left, Good will to men.
Good men, a woman says, to me.
He puts his thumb in his mouth again.

I manage a toast to the Christmas tree
and one to the sweet absurdity
in the miracle of the verb to be.
Lucky you, lucky me.

"A Christmas Poem" by Miller Williams, from The Ways We Touch. © University of Illinois Press, 1997. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

On this day in 1913, the world's first crossword puzzle appeared in a special Christmas issue of the New York World.

It's the birthday of the journalist and novelist Rebecca West, (books by this author) born in London (1892). In 1936, she traveled to the country then known as Yugoslavia. She wrote a detailed book about Yugoslavia, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (1942). The book is about 500,000 words. It still gets read today, especially as a resource for journalists when they write about the recent civil wars in the Balkans.

Rebecca West said, "I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is; I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute."

It's the birthday of Benjamin Disraeli, (books by this author) born in London (1804). He was Britain's first and only Jewish prime minister, as well as a best-selling novelist. He wanted to expand the British Empire, and he secured the Suez Canal for Britain.

Disraeli was known as a man of fashion and high society. An acquaintance once said that he would go to a dinner party wearing "green velvet trousers, a canary-colored waistcoat, low shoes, silver buckles, lace at his wrists and his hair in ringlets."

It's the birthday of conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, (albums by this artist) born in Hollywood (1944). His grandparents, the Thomashefskys, were famous Yiddish theatrical stars. He graduated from the school of music at the University of Southern California and then got a fellowship conducting at Tanglewood, in the Berkshires. At 23, he was the youngest assistant conductor ever hired by the Boston Symphony.

He was the protégé of Leonard Bernstein, and is frequently compared to him. Like Bernstein, he stepped in at a major performance when the principal conductor got sick, and so made his reputation at age 24. He was founder of the New World Symphony in Miami, and in 1995 he went to direct the San Francisco Symphony, and he's been there ever since. He hosts a classical music series on PBS called Keeping Score.

He said, "I believe that music is the most important when the music stops. When a piece ends, that's when I really measure what effect it had on me or those who heard it."

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




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