Thursday July 6, 2017

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Sincerely, the Sky

Yes, I see you down there
looking up into my vastness.

What are you hoping
to find on my vacant face,

there within the margins
of telephone wires?

You should know I am only
bright blue now because of physics:

molecules break and scatter
my light from the sun

more than any other color.
You know my variations—

azure at noon, navy by midnight.
How often I find you

then on your patio, pajamaed
and distressed, head thrown

back so your eyes can pick apart
not the darker version of myself

but the carousel of stars.
To you I am merely background.

You barely hear my voice.
Remember I am most vibrant

when air breaks my light.
Do something with your brokenness.

“Sincerely, the Sky” from Dear Sincerely by David Hernandez, © 2016. Aired by permission of University of Pittsburgh Press.  (buy now)

Louis Pasteur successfully tested his rabies vaccine on this day in 1885. Pasteur had begun work on a vaccine in 1882, using a weakened form of the virus taken from the spinal cords of infected animals. The research was time-consuming, because it took several weeks for the virus to reach his test animals’ brains after they were infected, but Pasteur soon realized that people didn’t need to have the vaccine on board before they were bitten, as with other diseases. The delay between the rabid animal’s bite and the outbreak of the disease meant the vaccine could be given only when needed, and it would have plenty of time to work.

In 1885, a nine-year-old boy named Joseph Meister was bitten by a rabid dog. He was brought to Pasteur, and though Pasteur didn’t feel his vaccine was sufficiently tested yet, he knew the boy would certainly die otherwise, so he took a chance. It was a tense few weeks waiting to see if Meister would come down with the disease, but the boy recovered, and three months later was pronounced in good health. Pasteur’s fame spread quickly, and the era of preventative medicine had begun.

Today is the birthday of Frida Kahlo, born in Coyoacán, just outside Mexico City (1907). She was born in her parents’ home, La Casa Azul — the Blue House.

When Kahlo was 18, the bus she was riding collided with a streetcar. Her collarbone, spine, and pelvis were fractured. She was bedridden for several months, and it was during this time that she first took up painting. Her mother rigged up an easel that would fit over the bed, and, using a mirror, she painted her first of 55 self-portraits. She showed her early efforts to Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, who encouraged her to keep at it.

Kahlo said: “There have been two great accidents in my life. One was the trolley, and the other was Diego. Diego was by far the worst.” She first met the painter Diego Rivera in 1923, when she was 15. He had been commissioned to paint a mural at her school, and she would watch him work for hours. In 1929 they were married. Rivera was notoriously unfaithful and even had an affair with Kahlo’s sister Cristina. The couple divorced in 1939, but they remarried soon afterward and remained together until Kahlo’s death. They led largely separate lives, and both artists had affairs throughout their marriage.

Kahlo’s work was championed by surrealist André Breton and painter Marcel Duchamp, who arranged exhibitions of her paintings, which often combine brilliant colors and striking images from Mexican folk art. She said: “[Critics] thought I was a Surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.

On this day in 1928, the first full-length talking picture, The Lights of New York, premiered at the Strand Theater in New York. Warner Brothers billed it as “the first 100 percent talking picture.” Al Jolson’s The Jazz Singer, released earlier, featured only brief intervals of sound.

It’s the birthday of novelist and essayist Eleanor Clark (books by this author), born in Los Angeles, California (1913). She went to college at Vassar, and while she was there she founded a literary magazine with three classmates who would go on to become well-known writers: Elizabeth Bishop, Muriel Rukeyser, and Mary McCarthy. After Clark graduated, she worked a series of freelance editing and translating jobs before publishing her first novel in 1946 — The Bitter Box, about an ordinary bank clerk who quits his job to become involved in the Communist Party. He’s used by other members of the party to further their agenda, and ends up disgraced and disillusioned.

One of Clark’s best-known works is a nonfiction book on oysters: The Oysters of Locmariaquer, in which Clark wrote about the oyster industry in a small region in northwest France. It won the National Book Award in 1965. Clark wrote: “If you don’t love life you can’t enjoy an oyster; there is a shock of freshness to it and intimations of the ages of man, some piercing intuition of the sea and all its weeds and breezes. [They] shiver you for a split second.”

In the 1970s, Clark became afflicted with an eye disease that made it impossible to use a typewriter and almost impossible to read. Her daughter suggested she try writing with Magic Markers and large gray drawing pads, and Clark ended up writing an entire book that way, the memoir Eyes, Etc. (1977), which begins: “Try first to write a page a day this way. Get used to it.” She went on to write two more novels and a travel book.

On this day in 1896, the writer O. Henry (William Sydney Porter) hopped a train for New Orleans rather than stand trial for embezzlement (books by this author).

He was raised in North Carolina, but relocated to Texas after he began to show symptoms of tuberculosis. He worked in Austin as a teller for the First National Bank, got married and had a child. In his spare time he edited a humor newspaper called The Rolling Stone. Then he moved to Houston, but was summoned back to Austin when shortages were discovered in the bank’s ledgers. They were probably due to bad bookkeeping, and he might have escaped conviction, but on the way from Houston to Austin he lost his nerve, stepped across the platform, and boarded a train going the opposite way. He landed in New Orleans, where he took a job on the docks. From there he went to Central America, making friends with criminals who gave him money after they pulled off big robberies. In 1897, word reached him that his wife was dying, and he went back to Austin, knowing he faced a certain prison sentence. His wife died, and he served five years in an Ohio penitentiary. There he began to write short stories, some of which he published under the name of one of the guards, Orrin Henry.

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