Apr. 3, 2010

The old cat sleeps
in the newly arrived sun. One more spring
has come his way
dropping a solar bath
on failing kidneys, old cat bones.
I check for the rise and fall of breath.

Once he stalked hares
across the yard, tracked down
chicken hearts with split-lentil eyes.
Fearless, disinterested, a poseur, a demideity.
He and the dog are strangers still
after years of eating side by side.

I remember times of wailing
into my couch, alone
and utterly baffled by life,
when suddenly a cat
would be sitting on my head.

Last week I pulled him snarling
from under a chair in Dr. Bacon's office,
held him while she examined his dull coat,
felt his ribs. Pressed where it hurt.
Eight pounds of fur and bone and mad as hell
but "He's certainly less anxious in your lap,"
she murmured, astonishing me.
I had no idea. Old cat, old friend,
have I reached some place inside,
added to your life
as you have to mine?

"Pushkin" by Marjorie Kowalski Cole, from Inside, Outside, Morningside. © Ester Republic Press, 2009. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of the writer Washington Irving, (books by this author) born in New York City (1783). He wrote "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and "Rip Van Winkle." He was the first person who referred to New York City as "Gotham," and he created the character of Diedrich Knickerbocker, the Dutch New Yorker. "Knickerbocker" came to describe any New Yorkers who could trace their family to the original Dutch settlers, and that's where the New York Knicks get their name.

It's the birthday of Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Herb Caen, (books by this author) born in Sacramento (1916). He started writing his column "It's News to Me" in the San Francisco Chronicle when he was 22, in 1938, the year after the Golden Gate Bridge opened. He continued writing 1,000 words a day, six days a week, for almost 60 years — becoming the longest-running columnist in American history. He coined the term "beatnik" in 1958, and he made the word "hippie" popular in the 1960s. He also coined "Baghdad by the Bay" to refer to San Francisco (back before the two recent American invasions of Iraq).

He said: "I'm going to do what every San Franciscan does who goes to Heaven. I'll look around and say, 'It's not bad, but it ain't San Francisco.'"

It's the birthday of a writer whose children's books have sold more than 20 million copies, Sandra Keith Boynton, (books by this author) born to Quaker parents in Orange, New Jersey (1953), one of whom was an English teacher. She went to Yale where she majored, she said, "happily if unimaginatively, in English." During the summers, she waited tables. But by the end of her junior year, she couldn't fathom the idea of doing it yet another summer. She decided to spend the summer designing greeting cards, convinced her uncle to print them, and then went store-to-store around the East Coast selling her cards. She finished her English degree, dropped out of grad school at both Berkeley and Yale, and continued designing cards. A (then) fledgling alternative greeting card company — Recycled Paper Greetings — hired her to design cards.

Between the mid-1970s and mid-90s, she designed about 5,000 greeting cards. In the 1980s, the cards she designed for Recycled Paper Greetings sold between 50 million and 80 million cards each year. Sandra Boynton is the person who designed the "Hippo Birdie Two Ewes" (happy birthday to you) card in 1975, a card that has since sold 10 million copies in its various cartoonish incarnations.

Her first children's book, called Hippos Go Berserk (1977), was published a few years later. She's since written many books, including Chocolate: The Consuming Passion (1982), which she says "was largely motivated by the allure of having all my chocolate expenses be tax-deductible for a year," and Philadelphia Chickens (2002).

In 1999, Boynton composed a book/album called Grunt: Pigorian Chant, which features, in her words, "plainchant and polyphony written in Latin and Pig Latin." She said, "I like to think of Grunt as the culmination of a lifetime of joyfully squandering an expensive education on producing works of no apparent usefulness."

It was on this day in 1948 that President Harry Truman signed the European Recovery Program (also known as the Marshall Plan) into law, which allocated more than $5 billion in aid to help revitalize the economy of European countries after World War II. That amount eventually grew to more than $13 billion.

Europe was on the verge of economic collapse. Whole cities had been destroyed, factories had shut down, and the winter of 1947 was one of the coldest on record. Many Europeans were unemployed and homeless, freezing to death. A small group of American strategists and diplomats decided that the only way to keep Europe from descending into chaos would be a huge infusion of cash. So they turned to Secretary of State George Marshall, a well-known war hero and public figure, hoping he could sell the plan to the public.

Marshall immediately bought the idea, and he became its spokesperson. He announced the plan at the commencement ceremony at Harvard on June 5, 1947, and then went on a national tour to promote the plan.

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




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