A morning after a week of rain
and the sun shot down through the branches
into the tall, bare windows.
The brindled cat rolled over on his back,
and I could hear you in the kitchen
grinding coffee beans into a powder.
Everything seemed especially vivid
because I knew we were all going to die,
first the cat, then you, then me,
then somewhat later the liquefied sun
was the order I was envisioning.
But then again, you never really know.
The cat had a fiercely healthy look,
his coat so bristling and electric
I wondered what you had been feeding him
and what you had been feeding me
as I turned a corner
and beheld you out there on the sunny deck
lost in exercise, running in place,
knees lifted high, skin glistening—
and that toothy, immortal-looking smile of yours.
“The Order of the Day” by Billy Collins from The Trouble with Poetry. © Random House, 2005. Reprinted by permission. (buy now)
It’s the birthday of poet Phyllis McGinley (books by this author), born in Ontario, Oregon (1905). Her collection Times Three: Selected Verse from Three Decades (1960) became the first book of light verse to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry.
McGinley wrote: “A Mother’s hardest to forgive.
Life is the fruit she longs to hand you,
Ripe on a plate. And while you live,
Relentlessly she understands you.”
It's the birthday of poet Nizar Qabbani (books by this author), born in Damascus, Syria (1923). His mother, who was illiterate, sold her jewelry to raise money to publish his first anthology, Childhood of a Bosom (1948), and he went on to become the most popular Arab poet and to publish more than 20 books of poetry. Much of his poetry was influenced by the tragic deaths of two women he loved. When he was 15, his older sister committed suicide rather than be forced into marriage with a man she did not love, and he turned his attention to the situation of Arab women. He wrote romantic, sensual poems and poetry demonstrating the need for sexual equality and women's rights. Many years later, in 1981, his second wife, an Iraqi woman, died during the Lebanese Civil War when the Iraqi Embassy was bombed. Qabbani was grief-stricken and frustrated with the political and cultural climate of the Arab world, and he lived in Europe for the rest of his life.
Qabbani said, “Don’t love deeply, till you make sure that the other part loves you with the same depth, because the depth of your love today, is the depth of your wound tomorrow.”
The Alabama Freedom March began on this date in 1965. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King (books by this author) and 3,200 demonstrators set off on a 54-mile march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, to protest the disenfranchisement of black voters. They had tried to set off on this march twice before; the first time, state troopers and deputies attacked them with clubs, whips, and tear gas. The second time, they were turned back by a human barricade of state troopers at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. On March 10, the Justice Department filed suit in Montgomery to block the troopers from punishing the protestors. President Lyndon Johnson, in a special address, said: “Their cause must be our cause too. Because it is not just Negroes, but really it is all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome.”
The judge ruled in favor of the marchers, but Alabama governor George Wallace complained that deploying the Alabama National Guard to protect the marchers would be too expensive. He appealed to Johnson for help. Johnson signed an executive order to federalize the Alabama National Guard, and deployed them to protect Dr. King and the other civil rights protestors on their march.
The marchers traveled about 12 miles a day, and slept in the fields at night. By the time they reached Montgomery on March 25, their numbers had swelled to 25,000. King gave an address from the steps of the state capitol. He said: “The end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience. And that will be a day not of the white man, not of the black man. That will be the day of man as man.”
President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — which prohibits racial discrimination in voting — in August, less than five months after the Selma march.
It’s the birthday of German composer Johann Sebastian Bach born in Eisenach, Germany (1685). His many compositions, including the Brandenburg Concertos (1721) and Goldberg Variations (1741), are considered some of the finest music ever written. He once said, “I play the notes as they are written, but it is God who makes the music.”
Bach came from a musical family. His father was a string player, town piper, and court trumpeter, and all of Bach’s siblings played music. Bach learned Latin and sang in the school choir. When he was nine, he lost both of his parents and went to live with his older brother. His brother taught him how to play the clavichord and to write music, even though ledger paper of that time was costly. When a new organ was under construction at the Ohrdruf Church, Bach was given special permission to watch.
He had a beautiful singing voice, which meant he could go to school for free as long as he sang in the boys’ choir. But his voice changed, so he quickly became an organ virtuoso. He was also something of a rogue, often leaving on foot for faraway towns to see new church organs. He earned a stipend teaching the boys choir, but he didn’t really like it, and once got into a fight with a bassoon player in the street. He was even chided for “making music with a stranger maid” in a town church.
Bach wrote both of his famous Passions while serving as the “Thomaskantor,” or music director, of the boys choir in Leipzig. Passion music was typically written for Good Friday services. He was the Thomaskantor in Leipzig until his death in 1750.
His compositions were complicated, and sometimes unwieldy, requiring many more instruments than people were used to. During his lifetime, even though he received commissions and was able to make a living, he wasn’t fully appreciated. At the time of his death, his sole estate was listed as “5 harpsichords, 2 tule-harpsichords, 3 violins, 3 violas, 2 cellos, a viola da gamba, a lute, a spinet, and 52 ‘sacred books.’” His eldest son immediately began selling off most of his music, piece by piece, after Bach’s death. For 150 years, Bach’s grave at Old St. John’s cemetery in Leipzig went unmarked. His remains were removed in 1894 and moved to a vault inside the church, but that building was destroyed by bombing in World War II. In the 1950s, his remains were moved to St. Thomas Church.