Saturday May 23, 2015

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Pea Jacket

Years ago I had an old pea jacket
Slightly scruffy but not unclean
was my overall look and I lacked
the easy assurance that comes with money
because I had very little

It was okay, not having money
I wasn’t starving or lacking anything I needed
though by contemporary standards
I should have been envious or angry
I wasn’t
All I cared about was my wife and friends and family
Books writing perception great art and gigantic metaphysical
questions floating in on good humor
Society could take care of itself more or less
(It turned out less)
and I was happy enough and eager
I think what I mean is I was young
so that no matter what anyone might think of my jacket
I liked it it fit well and was warm in the New York winter
collar turned up and hands snug in pockets

It came from a secondhand clothing store
at the corner of Bowery and Bleecker maybe it
had belonged to a drunken sailor
What do you do with a drunken sailor early in the morning?
Put him in bed with the captain’s daughter!
There was a label inside with his name and serial number scrawled on it
It felt odd wearing his name I snipped it out

I don’t have anything monumental or metaphoric to say about my jacket
It’s just a pleasure to remember it and how good it felt on me
Then one day I started wearing something else
and a few years later I gave the jacket to someone I liked I don’t recall who

“Pea Jacket” by Ron Padgett from Alone and Not Alone. © Coffee House Press, 2015. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

Today is the birthday of poet Jane Kenyon (books by this author), born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1947. She was married to fellow poet Donald Hall, and in 1975 they moved to his ancestral home in New Hampshire, where she would write in the mornings and garden in the afternoons. Her poems were about rural New England life, and they were about depression, which she battled all her life. She told Bill Moyers: "It's odd but true that there really is consolation from sad poems, and it's hard to know how that happens. There is the pleasure of the thing itself, the pleasure of the poem, and somehow it works against sadness."

She only published four books of poetry and a volume of translation before her untimely death from leukemia at the age of 47.

Today is the birthday of the author of the classic children's book Goodnight Moon: Margaret Wise Brown (books by this author), born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1910. Brownie, as she was known to her friends, had a revolutionary idea about children's stories: Kids would rather read about things from their own world than fairy tales and fables.

She was a lovely green-eyed blonde, extravagant and a little eccentric; with her first royalty check, she bought a street vendor's entire cart full of flowers, and then threw a party at her Upper East Side apartment to show off her purchase. She was a prolific author, writing nearly a hundred picture books under several pen names and sometimes keeping six different publishers busy at once with her projects. She was known to produce a book just so she could buy a plane ticket to Europe.

At one time, she dated Juan Carlos, Prince of Spain, and she had a long-term relationship with Michael Strange, John Barrymore's ex-wife. When she was 42, she met James Stillman Rockefeller Jr., who was 26, at a party and they hit it off immediately. They had a similar whimsical take on life, and were engaged to be married when she died suddenly; she had had surgery a few weeks before, and was kicking up her leg like a can-can dancer to show her doctor how well she felt. The kick dislodged a blood clot that was in her leg, and the clot traveled to her heart, killing her.

She never had children of her own, but she left the royalties for most of her books to a nine-year-old neighbor boy, Albert Clarke. Her estate was once worth a few hundred dollars, and now amounts to about $5 million — or rather, it would, had Clarke not squandered the inheritance, spending his life in and out of jail, throwing away clothes when they get dirty, and making a succession of bad real estate deals.

She said, "A good picture book can almost be whistled. ... All have their own melodies behind the storytelling."

It's the birthday of Edward Norton Lorenz, born in West Hartford, Connecticut, in 1917. He started out as a mathematician, but turned to meteorology during World War II. In an attempt to explain why it's so difficult to make a long-range weather forecast, he spawned chaos theory, one of the 20th century's most revolutionary scientific ideas.

Chaos theory is sometimes known as "the butterfly effect," a term coined by Lorenz in an attempt to explain how small actions in a dynamic system like the atmosphere could trigger vast and unexpected changes. He discovered the effect in the early 1960s while entering values into a computer weather prediction program; instead of entering the number to the full six decimal places, he rounded it to three to save time, and the resulting weather pattern was completely different. He first framed it as the effect a seagull's wing has on the formation of a hurricane, but he changed it to the more poetic butterfly in his 1972 presentation, "Does the flap of a butterfly's wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?"

Though the term dates back to 1972, the concept actually predates Lorenz's discovery. Science fiction writers had been playing around with the idea for several years in their time-travel stories: Usually the hero goes back in time and makes some seemingly insignificant choice that ends up changing the course of history.

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

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