May 23, 2011

At the IGA: Franklin, New Hampshire

by Jane Kenyon

This is where I would shop
if my husband worked felling trees
for the mill, hurting himself badly
from time to time; where I would bring
my three kids; where I would push
one basket and pull another
because the boxes of diapers and cereal
and gallon milk jugs take so much room.

I would already have put the clothes
in the two largest washers next door
at the Norge Laundry Village. Done shopping,
I'd pile the wet wash in trash bags
and take it home to dry on the line.

And I would think, hanging out the baby's
shirts and sleepers, and cranking the pulley
away from me, how it would be
to change lives with someone,
like the woman who came after us
in the checkout, thin, with lots of rings
on her hands, who looked us over openly.

Things would have been different
if I hadn't let Bob climb on top of me
for ninety seconds in 1979.
It was raining lightly in the state park
and so we were alone. The charcoal fire
hissed as the first drops fell....
In ninety seconds we made this life—
a trailer on a windy hill, dangerous jobs
in the woods or night work at the packing plant;
Roy, Kimberly, Bobby; too much in the hamper,
never enough in the bank.

"At the IGA: Franklin, New Hampshire" by Jane Kenyon, from Collected Poems. © Graywolf Press, 2005. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today is the birthday of the author of the classic children's book Goodnight Moon: Margaret Wise Brown (books by this author), born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1910. Brownie, as she was known to her friends, had a revolutionary idea about children's stories: Kids would rather read about things from their own world than fairy tales and fables.

She was a lovely green-eyed blonde, extravagant and a little eccentric; with her first royalty check, she bought a street vendor's entire cart full of flowers, and then threw a party at her Upper East Side apartment to show off her purchase. She was a prolific author, writing nearly a hundred picture books under several pen names and sometimes keeping six different publishers busy at once with her projects. She was known to produce a book just so she could buy a plane ticket to Europe.

At one time, she dated Juan Carlos, Prince of Spain, and she had a long-term relationship with Michael Strange, John Barrymore's ex-wife. When she was 42, she met James Stillman Rockefeller Jr., who was 26, at a party and they hit it off immediately. They had a similar whimsical take on life, and were engaged to be married when she died suddenly; she had had surgery a few weeks before, and was kicking up her leg like a can-can dancer to show her doctor how well she felt. The kick dislodged a blood clot that was in her leg, and the clot traveled to her heart, killing her.

She never had children of her own, but she left the royalties for most of her booksto a nine-year-old neighbor boy, Albert Clarke. Her estate was once worth a few hundred dollars, and now amounts to about $5 million — or rather, it would, had Clarke not squandered the inheritance, spending his life in and out of jail, throwing away clothes when they get dirty, and making a succession of bad real estate deals.

She said, "A good picture book can almost be whistled. ... All have their own melodies behind the storytelling."

It's the birthday of Edward Norton Lorenz, born in West Hartford, Connecticut, in 1917. He started out as a mathematician, but turned to meteorology during World War II. In an attempt to explain why it's so difficult to make a long-range weather forecast, he spawned chaos theory, one of the 20th century's most revolutionary scientific ideas.

Chaos theory is sometimes known as "the butterfly effect," a term coined by Lorenz in an attempt to explain how small actions in a dynamic system like the atmosphere could trigger vast and unexpected changes. He discovered the effect in the early 1960s while entering values into a computer weather prediction program; instead of entering the number to the full six decimal places, he rounded it to three to save time, and the resulting weather pattern was completely different. He first framed it as the effect a seagull's wing has on the formation of a hurricane, but he changed it to the more poetic butterfly in his 1972 presentation, "Does the flap of a butterfly's wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?"

Though the term dates back to 1972, the concept actually predates Lorenz's discovery. Science fiction writers had been playing around with the idea for several years in their time-travel stories: Usually the hero goes back in time and makes some seemingly insignificant choice that ends up changing the course of history.

On this day in 1934, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow's two-year crime spree ended when they were ambushed and shot by police in Gibsland, Louisiana. They met in 1930, when Bonnie was 20 and Clyde was 21, and fell in love almost instantly. Bonnie Parker had been a good student who won prizes for spelling and writing, but she dropped out at 15 and married a classmate. She and her young husband were estranged, mostly because he had spent the few years since their marriage in and out of jail. Clyde Barrow had committed a few robberies and stolen some cars, and was arrested soon after they met. He entered prison a wayward schoolboy and emerged two years later a hardened criminal, vowing to take revenge on the Texas correctional system.

The five members of the Barrow gang were nearly caught at a rented apartment in Joplin, Missouri, in 1933, but escaped after killing two lawmen who had come to arrest them. They left behind most of their possessions, though, including a roll of film and one of Bonnie Parker's poems, "Suicide Sal." The photos showed the Barrow gang clowning around and posing with their weapons, and it was the publication of the photographs and poem over the new national newswire that made them celebrities. They were really just small-time crooks, not career bank robbers, mostly robbing stores, restaurants, and gas stations; their take from any given job was never more than $1,500. But it was the Depression, and people felt oppressed by the banks, and it only took a couple of small-town bank robberies to give them a "Robin Hood" reputation among the down-and-out public. But after 13 murders—nine of them police officers—even the public turned on them.

The posse took no chances that they would pull off another daring and bloody escape, and began firing — about 130 rounds, total — as soon as they ambushed the outlaws' car on a Louisiana back road. Crowds gathered immediately, snipping locks of hair and bits of blood-soaked clothes to sell as grisly souvenirs.

From Bonnie Parker's most famous poem, "The Trail's End":
Some day they'll go down together,
they'll bury them side by side.
To few it'll be grief,
to the law a relief
but it's death for Bonnie and Clyde.

Today is the birthday of poet Jane Kenyon (books by this author), born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1947. She was married to fellow poet Donald Hall, and in 1975 they moved to his ancestral home in New Hampshire, where she would write in the mornings and garden in the afternoons. Her poems were about rural New England life, and they were about depression, which she battled all her life. She told Bill Moyers: "It's odd but true that there really is consolation from sad poems, and it's hard to know how that happens. There is the pleasure of the thing itself, the pleasure of the poem, and somehow it works against sadness."

She only published four books of poetry and a volume of translation before her untimely death from leukemia at the age of 47.

It's the birthday of author Mitch Albom (books by this author), born in Passaic, New Jersey, in 1958. He started out as a jazz pianist and then became a sports writer, but it was his first non-sports book, Tuesdays with Morrie (1997), that caught Oprah's eye and made him famous. Morrie was followed by two novels — The Five People You Meet in Heaven (2003) and For One More Day (2006) and another book of nonfiction, Have a Little Faith (2009).

He's started four charities in the Detroit area, where he lives, and when he's on a book tour, he holds readings to benefit local charities wherever he goes. He also finds time to perform with the Rock Bottom Remainders, a rock band comprised of authors who also happen to be amateur musicians.

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




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