Saturday August 8, 2015

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Last Night I Drove My Son Home

from his friend’s house, where they were filming
a movie starring my son in a love triangle.
My son, fifteen, has never been in a love right angle,
or even a love straight line, as far as I know.
He stopped talking two years ago—
to me, I mean. I got this secondhand from a street informant
I’ll refer to here by her code name, Little Sister.

A warm night, windows rolled down—my cheap car
requires physical cranking. (Not even a CD player!)
Purchased in 2003 when he was ten and still kissed me goodnight
and may even have held my hand while we watched
old movies. (No cable TV either!) Yesterday
he made me kill a giant bug, and I briefly saw
that ten-year-old again.

Full moon—I could see him looking up at it,
following it as I turned and we lost it to the trees.
September, but moist like August. I ached
for a few soft words between us in that silence.

On a sidewalk near the park a young man sat,
face in hands, a friend standing helpless above him.
I slowed down. What’s that guy doing? I said aloud.
Is he Okay?

I see him too, my son said.
As the friend helped the man
to his feet, I sped on.

My son hummed an old song about the moon
that I didn’t know he knew. My son, the star
of a movie I’ll never see. I just get
these vague coming attractions.
I caught him in a lie or two this week.
Every exchange a house of cards—all it takes
is a deep sigh, and they come tumbling down.

I’d have hummed along with him,
but I didn’t want him to stop.

“Last Night I Drove My Son Home” by Jim Daniels from Apology to the Moon. © Bat Cat Press, 2015. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

It’s the birthday of physicist Ernest O. Lawrence, born in Canton, South Dakota (1901). He was a curious child — at age two, he tried to figure out how matches worked and ended up lighting his clothes on fire. His best friend in Canton was a boy named Merle Tuve, who would go on become a famous geophysicist. The boys built gliders together and constructed a crude radio transmitting station.

Lawrence worked his way through college — he received an undergraduate degree from the University of South Dakota and graduate degrees from the University of Minnesota and Yale. He accepted a position at the University of California, Berkeley, and in 1930 he became the youngest full professor there. Lawrence put in 70-hour weeks at the Berkeley Radiation Lab, and he expected everyone else to do the same. The Lab was open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

It was there that he invented a machine that he called a “proton merry-go-round,” better known as the cyclotron. Lawrence’s first version of the cyclotron was very makeshift — it involved a kitchen chair, clothes racks, and a pie pan — but eventually he produced a more sophisticated device. The cyclotron was a machine that could accelerate particles and then hurl them at atoms to smash the atoms open. This allowed scientists to discover radioactive isotopes of elements and sometimes new elements. In 1940, Lawrence won the Nobel Prize for his invention.

It’s the birthday of the poet Sara Teasdale (books by this author), born in St. Louis, Missouri (1884). She specialized in brief, rhyming, lyric poems, usually about love, in books such as Rivers to the Sea (1915) and Love Songs (1917). Her poetry was slowly going out of style throughout her lifetime. She wrote: “When I can look life in the eyes, / grown calm and very coldly wise, / life will have given me the truth, / and taken in exchange — my youth.”

It’s the birthday of writer Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (books by this author), born in Washington, D.C. (1896). She is best-known for her novel The Yearling (1938).

The funeral of Ulysses S. Grant was held in New York City on this date in 1885. His body had lain in state in City Hall for two days, and thousands filed past to view the former president and Civil War hero. The New York Tribune reported, “Among the thousands was many a true and honest soul who came to take a last glimpse of the features of the man whose character and actions have become the precious inheritance of the Nation.” On August 8, people across the country awoke to tolling bells, and many communities held their own memorial services. One and a half million people attended the funeral itself; the line of mourners that followed his funeral procession stretched for seven miles. The procession included three presidents, and former Confederate and Union soldiers alike. Grant’s body was carried to a temporary tomb in Riverside Park, where it rested for 12 years while the money was raised to build a permanent mausoleum. At the end of the fundraising campaign — the largest ever, at that time — 90,000 people from around the world had contributed more than $600,000. It’s the largest tomb in North America, and one of the largest in the world. As impressive as it was, many Americans agreed with a newspaper editorial: “the Union [is] His Monument.”

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