Las Vegas, NV
May 20, 2020
Garrison Keillor hits Las Vegas with a new solo show!
April 18, 2020
Garrison Keillor comes to the Rochester Civic Theatre for a night of stories, songs, poetry, and humor. Tickets $50 and up
February 19, 2020
Garrison Keillor with Heather Masse at the Dakota. Night 2 of 2. Tickets $30+
February 18, 2020
Garrison Keillor with Heather Masse at the Dakota. Night 1 of 2. Tickets $30+
Man at the Window
by David Watts
He stands at the window baffled
by pleasure and how brief it is.
Pleasure followed by the memory
of pleasure. Light
then dark with a splinter
left in. Something like that.
The woman in the chair is reading,
drinking tea in the ground glass
haze of evening.
The sudden swell he feels
illuminates the past she spent
getting to this place:
a lover who left, perhaps. Time
setting her kitchen in order, or maybe
gathering artichokes from the field.
The moment opens in a diorama
of impermanence, seeping away
at the edges even as it is breathed
into vision the first time. He holds out
his arms. He wants this moment
in the body, to feel there
the pleasure it holds, and then
whatever it is that pleasure
which is all he can keep.
The strange quality of light
dissolving like smoke in air,
in the sun’s diminishing gaze.
“Man at the Window” by David Watts from Having and Keeping. Brick Road Poetry Press © 2017. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
Today is the birthday of the father of antiseptic medicine: Joseph Lister, born in Upton, England (1827). He was a surgeon, and in 1861 he was appointed to the Glasgow Royal Infirmary. The hospital’s managers had just had a new surgical wing built, in the hope that the postsurgical mortality rate would be lower in the pristine new facility. Lister, who was in charge of the surgical block, was disappointed to report that the mortality rate didn’t drop in the new building: 45 to 50 percent of the patients still died of “ward fever.”
At that time, doctors didn’t really understand what caused infection or how diseases were spread. The prevailing medical theory about infection was that it was caused by miasma, or bad air. Hospital wards would be aired out from time to time, to dispel the miasma. But Lister doubted this theory, and thought that infection might actually be caused by an invisible dust, like pollen, which was getting in patients’ wounds. So he became determined to erect a barrier between the patient’s body and the surrounding air. He knew that carbolic acid was used to clean the sewers, and some doctors were suggesting it could also be used to clean wounds. Lister experimented with a diluted form of the acid, spraying a fine mist into the air of the operating room, cleaning surgical tools with it, and covering wounds with lint pads soaked in carbolic acid. He also required his surgeons to wash their hands before and after surgery, which was a completely new medical practice. The mortality rate in Lister’s ward dropped to 15 percent, and a couple of years later it was down to 5 percent.
Unfortunately, doctors in England and the United States didn’t believe his method had merit. They didn’t object to his use of carbolic acid, but rather to his theory that wound infections were caused by invisible germs. Lister was vindicated when he performed surgery to repair a broken kneecap. The surgery, which was a complicated type that often resulted in the patient’s death from infection, was a complete success. Lister lived to see the entire medical community accept and adopt his methods.
It’s the birthday of the African-American educator Booker T. Washington (books by this author), born a slave in Franklin County, Virginia (1856). After he was freed by the Civil War, his family went north to work the salt mines of West Virginia. In order to keep track of each salt packer’s work, his barrels were marked with a certain number. The number given to his stepfather was “18,” and at the end of the day the boss would come around and put “18” on each of their barrels, and Washington soon learned to recognize that figure wherever he saw it, and after a while he could write “18” although he knew nothing else about reading or writing. Eventually, he begged his mother for a book, and she somehow got him a copy of Webster’s “blue-back” spelling book from which he taught himself the alphabet.
When Washington attended school for the first time, he was puzzled by the fact that all of the children had at least two or three names called during the school roll call, having grown up only being called “Booker.” By the time the roll call got to him, he had decided to make himself equal to everyone else, and calmly responded, “Booker Washington.”
In June of 1881, Washington was asked to become the principal of a new training school for blacks at Tuskegee, Alabama. The Tuskegee Institute began in a single building with 30 students but through his efforts grew into a modern university.
Washington believed that the best interest of black people was to become educated in vocational and industrial skills. In his famous speech given to a racially mixed audience at the Atlanta Exposition in 1895, Washington said: “In all things that are purely social we can be separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.”
Among Washington’s dozen books is his autobiography, Up from Slavery (1901), which was translated into many languages.
He said, “You can’t hold a man down without staying down with him.”
It’s the birthday of the American crime and suspense writer Robert Bloch (books by this author), born in Chicago (1917). At the age of nine, he saw his first horror movie, The Phantom of the Opera, starring Lon Chaney. Afterward, he slept for a long time with the light on. His favorite reading growing up was Weird Tales. He started writing stories in high school, and after he graduated he bought a secondhand typewriter. He sold his first story to Weird Tales at the age of 17. He’s best known for his novel Psycho, which later was adapted into the famous film by Alfred Hitchcock.
It’s the birthday of poet Algernon Charles Swinburne (books by this author), born in London (1837). He came from the aristocracy and never had to work for a living, so he worked instead on cultivating an outrageous image. Oscar Wilde, no stranger to such matters, once called him “a braggart in matters of vice,” and said all Swinburne’s claims of depravity were just posturing. He was small and delicate in looks, with vibrant and untamed red hair, and he drank to excess, screamed his poetry aloud while skipping around the room, and wandered Oxford at night, screaming blasphemies. He wrote poems calculated to shock Victorian audiences: verses about sex and sadomasochism and vampires. For many years, he was trapped in a cycle of overindulgence, collapse, and recovery. Finally, his literary agent, Theodore Watts-Dunton, forcibly removed him from his unhealthful lifestyle and weaned him from alcohol and dissolute friends. Swinburne lived with Watts-Dunton for 30 years, until he died at the age of 72.
It’s the birthday of American pediatrician and microbiologist Hattie Alexander was born in Baltimore (1901). Alexander would go on to develop a new serum to effectively treat the deadly childhood illness influenzal meningitis, also known as Hib.
Alexander attended medical school at Johns Hopkins University in her hometown. In 1932, she was appointed lifelong instructor and researcher in pediatrics at Columbia University in New York.
Her work focused on developing a better serum for curing influenzal meningitis, which killed virtually all the infants and young children that it infected. She experimented with rabbit-based serums to great success, and by the mid-1940s, she had virtually erased infant mortality from the disease. She was also one of the first microbiologists to study antibiotic resistance, which remains a major problem today. In 1964, she became one of the first women selected to lead a national medical organization as president of the American Pediatric Society.
Her Columbia colleagues characterized her as a brilliant scientist who always demanded high standard of proof from her students and residents, constantly challenging, “How do you know that?” “What makes you think so?” and “Where is your evidence?”
Alexander died in 1968 of breast cancer, at 67 years old. After her death, scientists developed a Hib vaccine — bringing cases of influenzal meningitis down to only two in every 100,000 children.
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