Thursday Apr. 20, 2017

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Praise Be

Praise be to the not-nearly-a-girl anymore
clerking at our local grocery outlet
since junior high. Single mom, moved up
after a decade of customer service
to manage four well-ordered aisles
of hairsprays, lipsticks, and youthful glow
in glittering squeeze tubes. Familiar
red-headed, brown-eyed, gap-toothed
smile. Willing to put aside her boxes of chores
to chat with each of us she names by heart.

I forget if she’s Mary or Alice or Jane.
Fine, I answer after she asks, How’s
your day? And driving my sacks
of next week’s meals home, I wonder
why she rises from her labors to greet me,
why she straightens her smock
where it’s pulled up a bit and rides her hips.
Tucks in place a loose wisp of curl.
When I walk by, what does she want to know,
when she asks, How’s your day?
I wonder why so seldom I’ve asked it back.

“Praise Be” by Lowell Jaeger from Or Maybe I Drift Off Alone. © Shabda Press, 2016. Reprinted with permission.   (buy now)

In 1841, on this daythe first detective story was published. In his story The Murders in the Rue Morgue, published in Graham's MagazineEdgar Allan Poe (books by this author) created mystery's first fictional detective, C. Auguste Dupin. The story introduced many of the elements of mysteries that are still popular today: the genius detective, the not-so-smart sidekick, the plodding policeman, and the use of the red herring to lead readers off the track.

It's the birthday of one of the founders of psychiatry, Philippe Pinel (books by this author), born in Saint-André, France (1745). He studied mathematics, theology, and internal medicine before becoming the chief physician at a Paris insane asylum in 1792. Before Pinel arrived, conditions at the asylum were horrible: Among other things, patients were chained to the walls, and people could pay a fee to come in and watch them.

Pinel put a stop to these practices, as well as misguided treatments like bleeding, purging, and blistering. People generally believed that the insane were possessed by demons, but Pinel argued that they were just under a lot of stress. He started treating patients by talking to them about their problems in intense conversations on a regular basis, which paved the way for modern psychiatric practices.

It is the birthday of Spanish painter Joan Miró, born Joan Miró i Ferrà, in Barcelona (1893). While he is considered a surrealist, he rejected identification with any one artistic movement. Before he went into exile during the Franco regime — Miró was Catalan and the Catalans were subject to special persecution by Franco — he traveled widely and visual references to Haitian voodoo and the Cuban Santería religion infuse his dreamlike art. He's best known for his paintings The Harlequin's Carnival (1924) and Dog Barking at the Moon (1926).

He said, "The painting rises from the brushstrokes as a poem rises from the words. The meaning comes later."

He said, "For me an object is something living. This cigarette or this box of matches contains a secret life much more intense than that of certain human beings. "

It was on this day in 1914 that the Ludlow Massacre occurred in Ludlow, Colorado, after the National Guard opened fire on a group of striking coal miners. The miners worked for Colorado Fuel and Iron Corporation, which was owned by the Rockefeller family. The strike had begun in September of 1913. Eight thousand miners were protesting low pay, terrible working conditions, corrupt management, and towns that were completely controlled by the mining company. Some of the strikers’ demands for safety and legal protections were actually required by Colorado law, but were ignored by the company.

When the miners began striking, they were evicted from their homes, so they set up tents in makeshift camps. The Rockefellers hired an ad hoc local militia to patrol and raid the camps, and violent confrontations sprang up between the militia and the miners. In November, the company asked the Colorado governor to call in the National Guard, and he agreed. The Rockefellers paid the National Guard’s wages.

On April 20th, the militia fired at some of the strikers with machine guns. The miners fired back, and a daylong gunfight broke out. That evening, the National Guard set fire to the camp. Thirteen residents were shot and killed trying to escape. People dug pits in the ground to escape the shooting, and a group of 11 children and two women were burned to death in one of the pits. Dozens of people died in the days of rioting that followed.

Wallace Stegner called it “one of the bleakest and blackest episodes of American labor history.”

In an open letter to John D. Rockefeller Jr., Upton Sinclair wrote: “I intend to indict you for murder before the people of this country. The charges will be pressed, and I think the verdict will be ‘Guilty.’“

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