for my son
Trying to think of something useful
To say about marriage, I remember
A morning when I was twenty-plus,
Self-absorbed in my tinny pink
Renault Dauphine, my Little Toot,
And I tried to get by a tank-truck on
A bendy road too briefly straight.
Shuddering, pedal floored, my frivolous
Vessel leveled with the cab
Like a pilot fish by a shark’s grim grille.
Then there was a car ahead of us
And, as I tried to floor a pedal
Already on the floor, the blue
Of ice I hadn’t seen. Spinning
Toward the implacable hugeness of the cab, looking up
Into the eyes of the truckdriver, I felt
Only the sweet certainty of
Submission, call it love, as if
Already I had left myself and could look
Down with the driver’s godlike and loving
Eyes at a comical pink Dauphine
Sliding backwards down the road, then spinning
Again and into a snowbank, tilted
Against a tree. One flat tire
And a dent in the roof I pushed out myself.
I made it to work on time. Because
The truckdriver had seen the oncoming car
Before I had, had seen the patch of blue
And had slowed to let me by, I met
And married your mother, and you were born
And have grown up to meet and marry, and I
Have begun to understand the blind
Release of self to the will of another
And the answering wise, dispassionate
Restraint of the merger we call marriage.
“The Merger” by Charles W. Pratt from The Box Marked “Some are Missing.” © Hobblebush Books, 2010. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
It's the birthday of playwright Maxwell Anderson (books by this author), born on a farm near Atlantic, Pennsylvania (1888). His father was an itinerant Baptist preacher, and the family traveled across the Midwest. He went to college in North Dakota and started a career as a high school teacher there, but he was fired for his pacifist views. He moved to California and ended up teaching at Whittier College, where he was fired again for the same thing.
So he turned to writing. His first play was called White Desert (1923). He said, "I wrote it in verse because I was weary of plays in prose that never lifted from the ground." It was a contemporary tragedy about a marriage, set on the North Dakota prairie. It got some great reviews from theater critics, but audiences were totally confused and it closed after just 12 performances. But he kept writing, plays like What Price Glory? (1924), Both Your Houses (1933), which won the Pulitzer Prize, and Anne of the Thousand Days (1948). He was incredibly prolific, staging 33 plays in 36 years.
He said: "This modern craze for biographical information leaves me cold for many reasons. For one thing, it's always inaccurate; for another, it's so bound up with publicity and other varieties of idiocy that it gags a person of any sensibility. For another, to be heralded is to become a candidate for the newest list of 'the busted geniuses of yester-year' of whom I hope never to be one."
It's the birthday of physicist and writer Freeman Dyson (books by this author), born in Crawthorne Village, England (1923). While he was in his 20s, he made a huge contribution to science: He solved the central problem of quantum electrodynamics, a theory that describes how light and matter interact.
Dyson was on a Greyhound bus trip across America when the revelation came to him. He said: "As we were driving across Nebraska on the third day, something suddenly happened. For two weeks I had not thought about physics, and now it came bursting into my consciousness like an explosion." He sorted out all the different theories and came up with the reconciling equations and diagrams — all in his head, because he didn't have paper or a pencil on him.
When he was 55 years old, he published his first book, Disturbing the Universe (1979), in which he tries to "give to non-scientists a picture of the human passions, misadventures, and dreams that constitute the life of a scientist." He's written many books since then, including A Many-Colored Glass: Reflections on the Place of Life in the Universe (2007).
He said of scientific theories: "You sit quietly gestating them, for nine months or whatever the required time may be, and then one day they are out on their own, not belonging to you any more but to the whole community of scientists. Whatever it is that you produce, a baby, a book, or a theory, it is a piece of the magic of creation. You are producing something that you do not fully understand."