Feb. 15, 2012

Coming into the Family

by David Romtvedt

My mother screamed in what she told me
was the agony of childbirth. I've tried
not to feel that I was the cause of her pain
though it's hard, since it was my birth.
She'd known for quite some time
that I was facing the wrong way
and hoped that I would turn. But I didn't.
One doctor wanted it to be a normal birth.
He put his hand inside and gently explored
until he found me and forced me around
so my head was pointed in the right direction.
Still, I didn't move. By now there were two
doctors and the second used forceps,
trying to pull me along. My mother
tried to help, pushing hard. "Don't push now,"
the doctor said, "I'll do it." But the forceps
didn't work and my mother couldn't stop screaming.
My heart rate dropped. The first doctor,
the one who wanted a normal birth
and who was young and slight,
my mother remembered,
put his hand inside again, this time
somewhat frantically and clumsily.
The cord was wrapped around my neck.
The young doctor cried out.
"No time," my mother thinks he said.
They cut her open and lifted me,
her first child, into the world.
I had bruises on my temples,
and one ear was twisted and torn
but I was alright. They sewed my mother up
and she was alright, too. Still, each of us cried
and was worn and there remain scars,
clear enough for us to see.

"Coming into the Family" by David Romtvedt, from Some Church. © Milkweed Editions, 2005. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of scientist and writer Galileo Galilei, born in Pisa, Italy (1564), who defended the scientific belief that the Earth was not the center of the Universe and was tried by the Roman Inquisition for heresy. He once prophesied that, in the future, "There will be opened a gateway and a road to a large and excellent science into which minds more piercing than mine shall penetrate to recesses still deeper."

Galileo was a mathematics professor at Padua when he first heard about a new invention from the Netherlands, the telescope. When he couldn't get his hands on one to even look at, he worked out the mechanics on his own. The spyglass everyone had been talking about could magnify objects to three times their original size. The instrument Galileo made with lenses he ground himself, magnified all the way up to 20 times. He was able to see the valleys and mountains of the moon, the Milky Way, and to discover four moons of Jupiter. In 1610, Galileo published the story of his telescope and the results of his studies as The Starry Messenger.

Galileo had been corresponding with German astronomer Johannes Kepler, who also believed that the Sun, not the Earth, was the center of the solar system. Kepler had been urging Galileo to go public with his theories for years and, though Galileo was tried and convicted by the Church for heresy, he was never tortured or excommunicated as the dominant narrative goes—in reality, he remained a loyal Catholic his entire life.

It's the birthday of comic book artist and writer Art Speigelman (books by this author), born in Stockholm, Sweden (1948), the son of Holocaust survivors, who both suffered from depression and terrible nightmares.

The Speigelmans moved to Queens, New York, where the boy fell in love with the art of Mad magazine and developed a passionate interest in comics and cartooning. By age 14, he'd sold his first piece of art to the Long Island Post.

When he was twenty, Speigelman's mother committed suicide. He wrote an autobiographical comic strip about her and her depression and death. The experience was tremendously liberating and Speigelman began to think about creating a comic about the Holocaust, with the Jews drawn as mice and the Nazis drawn as cats. As he later said, "Almost as soon as it hit me, I began to recognize the obvious historical antecedents — how Nazis had spoken of Jews as 'vermin,' and plotted their 'extermination'."

Those comic strips were collected and published in two volumes: Maus: A Survivor's Tale - My Father Bleeds History (1986) and Maus II: And Here My Troubles Began (1991). The books told his father's story of surviving Auschwitz, as well as the relationship that developed between father and son as Speigelman worked on the books. They were extremely successful and, in 1992, Speigelman became one of the first cartoonists to receive the Pulitzer Prize for his work.

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




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