Apr. 9, 2011

After Reading There Might Be an Infinite Number of Dimensions

by Martha Silano

I'm thinking today of how we hold it together,
arrive on time with the bottle of Zinfandel, a six-pack

of Scuttlebutt beer, how we cover our wrinkles
with Visible Lift, shove the mashed winter squash

into the baby's mouth, how we hold it all together
despite clogged rain gutters, cracked

transmissions, a new explanation for gravity's
half-hearted hold. I'm wondering how we do it,

comb the tangles from our hair, trim the unwieldy
camellia, speak to packed crowds about weight loss

or fractals. I'm wondering how we don't
fall to our knees, knowing a hardened pea,

lodged in the throat, can kill, knowing
liquids are banned on all commercial flights.

Leaves fall. The baby sucks her middle fingers.
Meanwhile, the refrigerator acquires

an unexplainable leak. Meanwhile, we call
the plumber, open wide for the dental hygienist,

check each month, with tentative circlings,
our aging breasts. Somehow, each morning,

the coffee gets made. Somehow, each evening,
the crossing guard lifts fluorescent orange flag,

and a child and her father cross the glistening street.

"After Reading There Might Be an Infinite Number of Dimensions" by Martha Silano, from The Little Office of the Immaculate Conception. © Saturnalia Books, 2011. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

The nation's first tax-supported public library was founded on this day (1833). The Peterborough Town Library, in Peterborough, New Hampshire, was created by a vote that set aside a portion of the state bank tax for the purchase of books. A local Unitarian minister, the Reverend Abbot, led the vote. He had already started an informal library with some of his farmer friends.

The town library was located first in a storefront, and then moved in 1893 to a new building, where it remains to today, though you don't have to go there to check out its books. Cardholders can now download audiobooks from the library's website, if they want.

On this day in 1860, the oldest known recording of the human voice was made — someone was singing Au Clair de la Lune. French inventor Edouard-Léon Scott de Martinville captured sound waves on glass plates using a funnel, two membranes, and a stylus. He made the recording 17 years before Edison made his, but he didn't invent anything to play the recording back.

When researchers discovered these recordings three years ago, they assumed the voice singing was a woman's, so they played it at that speed. But then they re-checked the inventor's notes, and they realized that the inventor himself had sung the song, very slowly, carefully enunciating, as if to capture the beautiful totality of the human voice.

You can hear the astonishing recording at both speeds at

On this day in 1865, Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant, effectively ending the Civil War.

They met at a private residence in Appomattox Court House, Virginia. General Grant was reported to have begun the conversation by saying: "I met you once before, General Lee, while we were serving in Mexico... I have always remembered your appearance, and I think I should have recognized you anywhere."

To which Lee is said to have replied, "Yes. I know I met you on that occasion, and I have often thought of it and tried to recollect how you looked, but I have never been able to recall a single feature."

They talked over terms for an end of the war. Lee asked Grant to commit the terms to paper, which Grant handwrote on the spot. Lee accepted them on the spot. They shook hands. Before Lee rode off to inform his men, the two generals raised their hats to each other in salute.

The site is now a National Historic Park.

It's the birthday of Hugh Hefner, born in Chicago, Illinois (1926). He is the founder, editor-in-chief, and Chief Creative Officer of Playboy magazine.

He was brought up by strict Methodist parents. At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, he majored in psychology, where he reviewed Alfred C. Kinsey's Sexual Behavior in the Human Male for a student publication. He wrote: "Dr. Kinsey's book disturbs me ... our hypocrisy on matters of sex have led to incalculable frustration, delinquency, and unhappiness."

He was writing promotional copy for Esquire magazine when he got the idea for a new magazine that would be similar but more daring. He said: "What I was trying to create, quite simply, was a lifestyle magazine for single guys. There had never been anything like that before."

He financed the project with $600 of his own money and several thousand dollars from friends, including $1,000 from his mother. He produced the first issue out of his kitchen in Hyde Park, Chicago. It featured a nude calendar photograph of Marilyn Monroe, which Hefner bought from a calendar company for $200. The magazine reached the newsstands in December of 1953 and quickly sold out all of its copies.

He said, "Playboy was part of trying to make the case for a more liberal attitude ... suggesting that there was more than one moral purpose for human sexuality."

It's the birthday of Gregory Pincus, born in Woodbine, New Jersey (1903). He is one of the inventors of the birth control pill.

He had two uncles who were scientists, and he said, "As long as I can remember, I knew I was going to be a scientist." He got a bachelor's degree in agriculture from Cornell, and was an instructor in zoology while studying at Harvard. By age 35, he was an international authority on the sex of mammals and sex hormones.

He first made headlines by achieving the in-vitro fertilization of rabbits. But he wasn't celebrated for it. Aldous Huxley's novel Brave New World had just been published, and test-tube babies born without spirits were in the nation's imagination. He was depicted as a "Dr. Frankenstein."

When women's rights advocates Margaret Sanger and Katharine McCormick approached him about an affordable birth control pill in 1953, Pincus was struggling financially. McCormick was heiress to the International Harvester fortune. She funded the trials, and in 1960 "the Pill" was approved for human contraception.

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