Friday Dec. 18, 2015

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The Leaving

I will not miss this place but for
the paraffin glow of the young nurse’s face,
blonde and almond-eyed,
strange comfort of the flashlight’s
blinking on and off as she makes her
nightly rounds, seemingly without steps,
to check if you are still breathing,
kneeling at the bedside to ask,
Are you still awake? Do you need a pill?
as outside the window a dull gray
snow is falling into absence,
and you cradle a thought no longer there,
as if it mattered, as if anything
but her cool, soft hands offering
the drowse-inducing Eucharist
made sense anymore; as if a mind
drawing circles to mark eternity
and Xs for all the suffering
that implies could contain anything more
than the purposeful spark of fine,
subtle hips turning toward the door,
a leaving so gentle and assured
that it makes you feel nearly at home
in this world once again.

“The Leaving” by Greg Watson from All the World at Once. © Nodin Press, 2015. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

It's the birthday of one of the founders of the Methodist movement: Charles Wesley (books by this author), born in Epworth, England (1707). His older brother John Wesley was the preacher, and Charles was the writer of hymns and song leader.

The two of them went to Oxford, and they looked for deliberate ways to serve God throughout the day. Because of this, their fellow students laughed at how methodical they were and named them "Methodists," which they adopted. They traveled around England preaching in the open air to tens of thousands. They were not always successful — they were sometimes met with mobs who threw stones, dirt, and eggs in their faces. They traveled by horseback, and if Charles thought of a hymn while he was riding, he would ride to the house of his nearest acquaintance, demand a pen and ink, and write it down. John did most of the preaching, while Charles led the faithful in hymns at Methodist meetings. Hymnbooks were expensive, and many people couldn't read, so a leader would read out a line at a time, and everyone would sing it.

Wesley wrote 8,989 hymns, which averaged out to 10 lines of poetry every day for more than 50 years. His hymns include "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today," "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling," and "Hark! the Herald Angels Sing."

It's the birthday of the artist Paul Klee, born in Münchenbuchsee, Switzerland (1879). Paul Klee died at the age of 60 from an autoimmune disease called scleroderma. He left behind about 9,000 works of art, but also the Paul Klee Notebooks, published in English as The Thinking Eye (1961) and The Nature of Nature (1973). The Notebooks are considered one of the most important written works on modern art. Klee wrote about color theory, the role of chaos in art, and the relationship between art and its subject.

During World War I, Klee wrote in his diary: "The more horrifying this world becomes (as it is in these days) the more art becomes abstract."

It's the birthday of the baseball legend Ty Cobb, born in Narrows, Georgia (1886). His father was a teacher, principal, publisher, and state senator, and he had imagined that his son would follow in his footsteps, or maybe become a doctor or lawyer. He finally gave his blessing to Cobb's career choice, but he warned him: "Don't come home a failure." Three weeks before 18-year-old Cobb made his debut with the Detroit Tigers, his mother shot and killed his father outside their bedroom window — apparently, she thought he was an intruder.

Cobb was furious at the hazing he received from his teammates; he said, "I was just a mild-mannered Sunday-school boy, but those old-timers turned me into a snarling wild-cat." Cobb became one of the greatest baseball players of all time. Nothing stood in his way — legend has it that he would sit in the dugout where the other team could see him and sharpen the spikes on his shoes, then slide feet-first into each base. He was so mad when he thought the spring training field wasn't in top condition that he beat up the groundskeeper, then choked the groundskeeper's wife when she intervened. He attacked a heckler in the stands and almost killed him, and was finally hauled off the man by an umpire and a police officer. The Detroit Free Press described Cobb as "daring to the point of dementia." He still has the highest lifetime batting average of all time.

He said: "The great American game should be an unrelenting war of nerves. I guess that's what I miss most in it nowadays. In the battle of wits I was lucky enough to join in, you sat up nights plotting ways to win."

It's the birthday of jazz musician Fletcher Henderson, born in Cuthbert, Georgia (1897). He attended Atlanta University, majoring in chemistry and mathematics, then moved to New York City to find work as a chemist. Instead, he was hired to play piano on a Hudson River boat, and several years later (1924), he formed the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra. His innovative arrangements, which emphasized the horns and left room for improvised solos between arranged passages, shaped a new sound for big band jazz.

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