Sunday Dec. 6, 2015

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The Small Cabin

The house we built gradually
from the ground up when we were young
(three rooms, the walls
raw trees) burned down
last year            they said

I didn’t see it, and so
the house is still there in me

among branches as always        I stand
inside it looking out
at the rain moving across the lake

but when I go back
to the empty place in the forest
the house will blaze and crumple
suddenly in my mind

collapsing like a cardboard carton
thrown on a bonfire, summers
crackling, my earlier
selves outlined in flame.

Left in my head will be
the blackened earth: the truth.

Where did the house go?

Where do the words go
when we have said them?

“The Small Cabin” by Margaret Atwood from Selected Poems 1965-1975. © Houghton Mifflin. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

Today is St. Nicholas Day, which is celebrated in Germany and other European countries, as well as many American cities with German roots. On the evening of December 5th, children polish their shoes, then put the shoes outside the house in front of the door. During the night, St. Nicholas fills the shoes with small presents like sweets, oranges, and nuts. And this morning, December 6th, children rush outside to see what Nicholas has left them.

The Washington Monument was finally completed on this date in 1884. Begun in 1848, construction was halted in 1856 due to financial constraints and concerns about the nation's stability. For 20 years, the monument stood in its unfinished state, until the Army Corps of Engineers took up the project in 1876. Mark Twain described the unfinished monument, saying it had "the aspect of a factory chimney with the top broken off [...] you can see cow-sheds about its base, and the contented sheep nibbling pebbles in the desert solitudes that surround it, and the tired pigs dozing in the holy calm of its protecting shadow."

The monument is made of white marble, granite, and bluestone gneiss. At just over 555 feet, it was the tallest building in the world at that time, a position it held for five years until the Eiffel Tower surpassed it in 1889. It's still the world's tallest structure built completely of stone, and it's also the world's tallest true obelisk. If you look closely, you can see a slight color change about 150 feet up, around the time that construction stopped.

It's the birthday of poet (Alfred) Joyce Kilmer (books by this author), born in New Brunswick, New Jersey (1886). He wrote the famous poem "Trees," which begins, "I think that I shall never see / A poem lovely as a tree" and ends with the lines, "Poems are made by fools like me, / But only God can make a tree."

Today is the birthday of photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt, born in Tczew, Poland (1898). He was able to sneak around and get great candid shots, because he was only about five feet tall. He's the photographer of that iconic shot of the sailor kissing a woman in a white dress at the V-J Day celebration in Times Square.

It's the birthday of author Eve Curie (books by this author), daughter of Marie and Pierre Curie, born in Paris (1904). Unlike her older sister, Irène, Eve didn't follow in their mother's scientific footsteps. She was a concert pianist and music critic, and — as she later said with good humor — she was the only member of her family who never received a Nobel Prize.

Curie's father died when she was just two years old, and she didn't see much of her mother, who threw herself into her work after Pierre's death. Eve and Marie Curie became close when Eve was a teenager, and Eve nursed her mother through her terminal battle with leukemia. In 1937, she published a biography of her mother, Madame Curie. It won the National Book Award, became a best-seller, and was made into a film starring Greer Garson. It also became a source of inspiration for generations of girls who were interested in science.

Calvin Coolidge gave the first presidential address that was broadcast on the radio on this date in 1923. He was delivering his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress. On December 5, The New York Times announced, "The voice of President Coolidge, addressing Congress tomorrow, will be carried over a greater portion of the United States and will be heard by more people than the voice of any man in history." Coolidge, whose nickname was "Silent Cal," was taciturn, even reclusive, but his words were carried loud and clear — so clear, in fact, that listeners could hear the rustling of his papers.

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