Jun. 1, 2014

The Last Things I'll Remember

by Joyce Sutphen

The partly open hay barn door, white frame around the darkness,
the broken board, small enough for a child
to slip through.

Walking in the cornfields in late July, green tassels overhead,
the slap of flat leaves as we pass, silent
and invisible from any road.

Hollyhocks leaning against the stucco house, peonies heavy
as fruit, drooping their deep heads
on the dog house roof.

Lilac bushes between the lawn and the woods,
a tractor shifting from one gear into
the next, the throttle opened,

the smell of cut hay, rain coming across the river,
the drone of the hammer mill,
milk machines at dawn.

"The Last Things I'll Remember" by Joyce Sutphen from First Words. © Red Dragonfly Press, 2010. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today is the birthday of French engineer and physicist Nicolas Léonard Sadi Carnot, born in the Luxembourg Palace in Paris (1796). He is often described as the "father of thermodynamics" for his work related to steam engines.

In 1824, Carnot published one of the first physics books written for general audiences, called Reflections on the Motive Power of Fire. It explained, in laymen's terms, the principles of converting heat to energy. Carnot argued that the real power behind an engine lay in the temperature difference between its hottest and coolest elements, and that the use of gas or fluid was irrelevant.

His work was eventually incorporated into the Second Law of Thermodynamics — one of the fundamental foundations of modern physics. Although it was initially used to develop the steam engine, the second law is now used to describe processes as diverse as how water is heated to make coffee, the expansion of the cosmos, and an ecosystem's food web. The English novelist and scientist C.P. Snow said, "Not knowing the Second Law of Thermodynamics is like never having read a work of Shakespeare."

Carnot was just 36 when he contracted cholera after an epidemic swept through Paris. Because doctors weren't sure at that time how the highly contagious disease was transmitted, much of Carnot's work was buried with him.

It's the birthday of the poet who wrote the lines, "I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky, / And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by," in his poem "Sea Fever": John Masefield (books by this author), born in Ledbury, England (1878). An orphan, Masefield was sent to live with an aunt, who soon sent him off on a naval training school ship, convinced it would break his bad habit of reading all the time. In fact, Masefield had lots of spare time aboard the ship, and read more than ever. Within four years, determined to be a writer, he deserted ship in New York City. He got work in a carpet factory and saved enough money to return to England, where he married and began publishing.

Masefield was chosen as the U.K.'s poet laureate in 1930 — a post he kept for 37 years, second in duration only to Tennyson.

It's the birthday of Hollywood legend Marilyn Monroe — born Norma Jean Mortenson in Los Angeles, California (1926) — who said, "I don't want to make money, I just want to be wonderful."

On this day in 1974, Henry Jay Heimlich published his "Heimlich Maneuver" in the Journal of Emergency Medicine. The article was called "Pop Goes the Café Coronary." Less than three weeks later, the maneuver was used successfully in a restaurant in Bellevue, Washington. As of 2006, the American Red Cross recommends the "five and five" approach: five sharp blows to the back, followed by five abdominal thrusts if the back blows are not effective.

It's the birthday of British linguist, translator, and editor C.K. Ogden (books by this author), born in Fleetwood, England (1889). He founded The Cambridge Magazine as an undergraduate, and co-founded the Heretics Society, an organization dedicated to questioning authority and religious dogma; both the magazine and the society went on to become much bigger than a college kid's pastimes. The Magazine, which Ogden continued to edit for more than a decade, published writers like George Bernard Shaw, John Masefield, and Thomas Hardy, and the Society sponsored a forum that hosted speakers like Virginia Woolf and G.K. Chesterton.

Ogden also began translating books from French and German into English, work that took on increasing importance for him through the First World War.

After co-writing The Meaning of Meaning, a work that examined the influence of language on thought, the remainder of Ogden's career was focused on the creation and advocacy of "Basic English." Also known as Simple English, Basic is a simplified version of English that Ogden believed could become a universal language; there was a vocabulary of 850 words, only 18 of which were verbs or, as Ogden called them, "operators." Basic English was the solution to the problem of miscommunication and misunderstanding, Ogden believed, and could achieve world peace. Although it gained some popularity after H.G. Wells and George Orwell both wrote in its favor, Orwell changed his mind about it, and used it in his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four as the model for "Newspeak," the state-sanctioned language that has no words to express original thought.

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