Apr. 5, 2012

Shadows passed over the mesa...

by Gary Young

Shadows passed over the mesa, and I saw six eagles sail across the
valley. They rode thermals until they were almost out of sight,
then dove, and swung back in circles over my head. The air seemed
insufficient to their size—one eagle is enough to fill the sky. Two
of the birds veered toward another, and when they met, shook their
open beaks and tumbled for a moment before swinging back into
an easy glide. They made graceful, abrupt turns, and when they did,
the sun hit their backs like a mirror and reflected a fierce copper
flash. The sky behind them was so severe that spots of white light
began to dance in my field of vision. I don't think I could have
watched them any longer if they'd stayed, but they drifted off, with
no other purpose, it seemed, than to fly.

"Shadows passed over the mesa..." by Gary Young, from Even So: New & Selected Poems. © White Pine Press, 2012. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today is the birthday of Thomas Hobbes (books by this author), born in Westport, Wiltshire, England (1588) who witnessed a chaotic time in English politics, with two civil wars and the execution of the king. He wrote his most famous book, Leviathan, in the midst of it, in which he argues that people need a strong central authority to keep them from collapsing into war and chaos, a world with "no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." He believed that because we don't share the same ideas about what's right and wrong, we need a sovereign to enforce a set of laws.

It's the birthday of poet Algernon Charles Swinburne (books by this author), born in London (1837) born to the aristocracy, so he never had to work for a living, and it also gave him the freedom to be outrageous. He had wild red hair, drank to excess, and screamed his poetry and blasphemies aloud while wandering around Oxford at night. He wrote poems about sex, and sadomasochism and vampires, which shocked the Victorians and which nobody reads anymore.

Today is the birthday of the father of antiseptic medicine: Joseph Lister, born in Upton, England (1827). He was a surgeon at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary, where about half of all patients in surgery died later of what was called "ward fever." The prevailing theory of infection was that it was caused by miasma, or bad air. But Lister thought that infection might be caused by an invisible dust, like pollen, so he experimented with using carbolic acid to clean wounds. He also required his surgeons to wash their hands before and after surgery, which was a completely new medical practice. The mortality rate in Lister's ward dropped to 15 percent, and a couple of years later, it was down to 5 percent.

Lister lived into the 20th Century, long enough to see the medical community accept his theory of the cause of infection.

It's the birthday of Robert Bloch (books by this author), born in Chicago (1917), the novelist and screenwriter who created the psychopathic killer Norman Bates in his novel Psycho (1959), which was adapted into the famous film by Alfred Hitchcock. He liked to use comedy in his stories. He said, "Comedy and horror are opposite sides of the same coin. I have the heart of a child. I keep it in a jar on my shelf."

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




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