Thursday Aug. 17, 2017

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Ordinary Sex

If no swan descends
in a blinding glare of plumage,
drumming the air with deafening wings,
if the earth doesn’t tremble
and rivers don’t tumble uphill,
if my mother’s crystal
vase doesn’t shatter
and no extinct species are sighted anew
and leaves of the city trees don’t applaud
as you zing me to the moon, starry tesserae
cascading down my shoulders,
if we stay right here
on our aging Simmons Beautyrest,
dumped into the sag in the middle,
that’s okay.
You don’t need to strew rose petals
in my bath or set a band of votive candles
flickering around the rim.
You don’t need to invent a thrilling
new position, two dragonflies
mating on the wing. Honey,
you don’t even have to wash up after work.
A little sweat and sunscreen
won’t bother me.
Take off your boots, babe,
swing your thigh over mine. I like it
when you do the same old thing
in the same old way.
And then a few kisses, easy, loose,
like the ones we’ve been
kissing for a hundred years.

Ellen Bass, “Ordinary Sex” from Like a Beggar. Copyright © 2014 by Ellen Bass. Used by permission of The Permissions Company, Inc. on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.  (buy now)

On this date in 1982, the first compact discs for commercial release were manufactured in Germany. CDs were originally designed to store and play back sound recordings, but later were modified to store data. The first test disc, which was pressed near Hannover, Germany, contained a recording of Richard Strauss's An Alpine Symphony, played by the Berlin Philharmonic. The first CD commercially produced at the new factory and sold on this date was ABBA's 1981 album The Visitors; the first new album to be released on CD was Billy Joel's 52nd Street, which hit the stores in Japan — alongside the new Sony CD player — on October 1. The event is known as the "Big Bang of digital audio."

Today is the birthday of Irish writer and wit Oliver St. John Gogarty (books by this author), born in Dublin in 1878. Gogarty was a practicing surgeon and throat specialist, which is how he paid the bills, but he much preferred writing poetry, plays, and semi-autobiographical novels, like As I Was Going Down Sackville Street (1937), Tumbling in the Hay (1939), and It Isn't This Time of Year at All (1954). He was a contemporary and sometime friend of James Joyce and was the inspiration for the character Buck Mulligan in Ulysses, much to his annoyance. Their friendship had waned by that time, and he didn't take Joyce seriously as a writer, so he found his lifetime association with the character and the novel irksome. His friendship with W.B. Yeats was more productive and beneficial to him; Yeats produced three of Gogarty's plays at the Abbey Theatre, and the two maintained a close professional relationship and friendship for many years.

It's the birthday of poet Ted Hughes (books by this author), born in West Riding, Yorkshire (1930). He became noteworthy as a poet in 1957 with the publication of his first collection, The Hawk in the Rain. During a time when most poets were confining themselves to quiet, domestic verses, Hughes wrote about dramatic mythological themes, and often tried to write from the point of view of animals, especially Crow, who features in several of his books. He married poet Sylvia Plath in 1956; she committed suicide in 1963. He administered her literary estate, but didn't talk about her publicly until Birthday Letters (1998), his collection of poems about Plath and their relationship.

Hughes said: "The inmost spirit of poetry, in other words, is at bottom, in every recorded case, the voice of pain — and the physical body, so to speak, of poetry, is the treatment by which the poet tries to reconcile that pain with the world."

It's the birthday of actress and playwright Mae West (books by this author), born in Brooklyn, New York (1893). She became famous for her quippy innuendoes and double entendres. Some of her more notable quotes include: "A dame that knows the ropes isn't likely to get tied up." And, "Between two evils, I like to pick the one I haven't tried before." And, "I used to be Snow White, but I drifted."

Today is the birthday of American soldier, politician, and folk hero David — better known as "Davy" — Crockett, born in Greene County, Tennessee (1786). He was first elected to the state legislature of Tennessee in 1821, and the U.S. House of Representatives in 1827, where he served three nonconsecutive terms in all. He was defeated in 1835 by a peg-legged lawyer named Andrew Huntsman, and gave up politics, saying, "Since you have chosen to elect a man with a timber toe to succeed me, you may all go to hell and I will go to Texas." He left the next day, and he was killed at the Battle of the Alamo the following year.

Although he was a skilled hunter and marksman, and had a reputation for telling tall tales, much of his rustic frontier image was a product of political spin. On his way to Congress, he reportedly bragged to a crowd, "I'm that same David Crockett, fresh from the backwoods, half-horse, half-alligator, a little touched with the snapping turtle; can wade the Mississippi, leap the Ohio, ride upon a streak of lightning, and slip without a scratch down a honey locust [tree]." His legend was cemented by the Davy Crockett Almanack, a series of humorous books published from 1835 to 1856.

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