Sep. 1, 2012

Water Picture

by May Swenson

In the pond in the park
all things are doubled:
Long buildings hang and
wriggle gently. Chimneys
are bent legs bouncing
on clouds below. A flag
wags like a fishhook
down there in the sky.

The arched stone bridge
is an eye, with underlid
in the water. In its lens
dip crinkled heads with hats
that don't fall off. Dogs go by,
barking on their backs.
A baby, taken to feed the
ducks, dangles upside-down,
a pink balloon for a buoy.

Treetops deploy a haze of
cherry bloom for roots,
where birds coast belly-up
in the glass bowl of a hill;
from its bottom a bunch
of peanut-munching children
is suspended by their
sneakers, waveringly.

A swan, with twin necks
forming the figure 3,
steers between two dimpled
towers doubled. Fondly
hissing, she kisses herself,
and all the scene is troubled:
water-windows splinter,
tree-limbs tangle, the bridge
folds like a fan.

"Water Picture" by May Swenson, from Nature. © Mariner Books, 1994. © May Swenson. Reprinted with permission of The Literary Estate of May Swenson. All rights reserved. (buy now)

On this date in 1939, Nazi Germany invaded Poland, and WWII began. W.H. Auden, (books by this author) wrote a famous poem about this day, called "September 1, 1939."

It begins:
I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odor of death
Offends the September night.

Toward the end of the poem, which became one of Auden's most famous, he says, "We must love one another or die."

It was on this day in 1904 that Helen Keller (books by this author) graduated from Radcliffe, the first blind and deaf student to graduate from any college anywhere.

On this day in 1773, Phillis Wheatley (books by this author) published Poems on Various Subjects Religious and Moral, the first book ever published by a former American slave. She was bought by a family in Boston and they found her drawing on a wall with chalk. It was clear she was trying to make letters, so the daughter of the family taught her to read. She started to write poetry and no publisher in America would publish it, so she went to London and published it there.

On this date in 1859, a massive solar superstorm took place. It's sometimes called the "perfect space storm" or the Carrington Event, after British astronomer Richard Carrington. He reported witnessing a massive white-light solar flare: a bright spot suddenly appearing on the surface of the Sun. At the same time, the Sun produced a coronal mass ejection, or CME: a large eruption of magnetized plasma. CMEs usually take three to four days to reach Earth, but the magnetic burst from the superstorm of 1859 reached us in just under 18 hours.

People were growing accustomed to rapid communication over the telegraph, which had been in use for 15 years. Within hours of the CME, telegraph wires began shorting out, starting fires and disrupting communication in North America and Europe. Compasses were useless because the Earth's magnetic field had gone haywire. The northern lights were seen as far south as Cuba and Hawaii, and the southern lights — aurora australis — were seen in Santiago, Chile. People in the northeastern United States could read the newspaper by the light of the aurora, and the Sun itself was twice as bright during the event.

Subsequent solar storms have caused satellites, broadcast stations, and cell phones to malfunction; they've disrupted GPS systems on airplanes and have even knocked out entire power grids; in 1989, a storm much weaker than the superstorm of 1859 brought down the Hydro-Quebec power grid for more than nine hours. While scientists cannot predict the storms with any degree of confidence, some speculate that the Sun is expected to reach a period of peak activity in 2013, and the large flares often follow the peak periods. They're monitoring the Sun's activity closely, because with a little advance warning, power grids could be taken offline and satellites put in "sleep" mode for the duration of the storm, averting a global catastrophe from which it could take a decade and trillions of dollars to recover.

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




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