Jul. 8, 2012

The Fat of the Land

by Ronald Wallace

Gathered in the heavy heat of Indiana,
we've come from all over this great
country, one big happy family, back from
wherever we've spread ourselves too thin.
A cornucopia of cousins and uncles, grand-
parents and aunts, nieces and nephews, expanding.
All day we laze on the oily beach;
we eat all the smoke-filled evening:
shrimp dip and crackers,
Velveeta cheese and beer,
handfuls of junk food, vanishing.
We sit at card tables, examining
our pudgy hands, piling in
hot fudge and double-chocolate
brownies, strawberry shortcake and cream,
as the lard-ball children
sluice from room to room.
O the loveliness of so much loved flesh,
the litany of split seams and puffed sleeves,
sack dresses and Sansabelt slacks,
dimpled knees and knuckles, the jiggle
of triple chins. O the gladness
that only a family understands,
our fat smiles dancing
as we play our cards right.
Our jovial conversation blooms and booms
in love's large company, as our sweet
words ripen and split their skins:
mulberry, fabulous, flotation,
phlegmatic, plumbaginous.
Let our large hearts attack us,
our blood run us off the scale.
We're huge and whole on this simmering night,
battened against the small skinny
futures that must befall all of us,
the gray thin days and the noncaloric dark.

"The Fat of the Land" by Ronald Wallace, from Long For This World: New and Selected Poems. © University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today is the birthday of the poet Jean de la Fontaine (books by this author), born in Château-Thierry, in the Champagne region of France (1621). Originally intended for the clergy, he soon found that religion bored him, and he was much more interested in the Parisian social scene. For a while, he took over his father's post as an inspector of forests and waterways. But he had a knack for charming people, especially rich patrons who supported him while he wrote his famous Fables (1668-1693), several volumes of poems that tell familiar stories such as "The Tortoise and the Hare," "The City Mouse and The Country Mouse," and "The Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs." They are still popular in France today, where they are memorized by schoolchildren and studied by scholars.

In the Fables, La Fontaine wrote, "It is impossible to please all the world and one's father."

It's the birthday of French psychologist, Alfred Binet (books by this author), born in Nice, France (1857). Early in his career, he followed other 19th-century psychologists in believing that intelligence could be gauged by taking measurements of the size of the cranium. But his own experiments over many years changed his mind and led him to look for another way to measure intelligence. In 1904, with a commission from France's minister of public education, he began to develop an intelligence test based on a series of short tasks — such as counting coins or ordering blocks from smallest to largest. Binet's intelligence test became the basis of what became known as the intelligence quotient, or IQ, test. In the United States, Binet's test was adapted to create the first national standardized test, the Stanford-Binet.

It's the birthday of novelist Alec Waugh (books by this author). He was born in London in 1898, and he was his father's favorite. Arthur Waugh referred to Alec as "son of my soul." He spent most of his adult life living in exotic locales and writing about them in books including Hot Countries (1930) and Island in the Sun (1955).

Waugh published his first novel, The Loom of Youth (1917), when he was just 19. He drew heavily on his boyhood boarding school experiences for the novel, and it caused a scandal because he openly referred to homosexual relationships between the boys at the school. He was in France fighting in World War I at the time the book was published; he was eventually captured by the Germans and spent the rest of the war in a prisoner-of-war camp. He went on to enjoy a fairly successful career as a novelist, although he never approached the literary stature of his younger brother, Evelyn.

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




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