A Birthday Present
by Sylvia Plath
What is this, behind this veil, is it ugly, is it beautiful?
It is shimmering, has it breasts, has it edges?
I am sure it is unique, I am sure it is what I want.
When I am quiet at my cooking I feel it looking, I feel it thinking
‘Is this the one I am too appear for,
Is this the elect one, the one with black eye-pits and a scar?
Measuring the flour, cutting off the surplus,
Adhering to rules, to rules, to rules.
Is this the one for the annunciation?
My god, what a laugh!’
But it shimmers, it does not stop, and I think it wants me.
I would not mind if it were bones, or a pearl button.
I do not want much of a present, anyway, this year.
After all I am alive only by accident.
I would have killed myself gladly that time any possible way.
Now there are these veils, shimmering like curtains,
The diaphanous satins of a January window
White as babies’ bedding and glittering with dead breath. O ivory!
It must be a tusk there, a ghost column.
Can you not see I do not mind what it is.
Can you not give it to me?
Do not be ashamed–I do not mind if it is small.
Do not be mean, I am ready for enormity.
Let us sit down to it, one on either side, admiring the gleam,
The glaze, the mirrory variety of it.
Let us eat our last supper at it, like a hospital plate.
I know why you will not give it to me,
You are terrified
The world will go up in a shriek, and your head with it,
Bossed, brazen, an antique shield,
A marvel to your great-grandchildren.
Do not be afraid, it is not so.
I will only take it and go aside quietly.
You will not even hear me opening it, no paper crackle,
No falling ribbons, no scream at the end.
I do not think you credit me with this discretion.
If you only knew how the veils were killing my days.
To you they are only transparencies, clear air.
But my god, the clouds are like cotton.
Armies of them. They are carbon monoxide.
Sweetly, sweetly I breathe in,
Filling my veins with invisibles, with the million
Probable motes that tick the years off my life.
You are silver-suited for the occasion. O adding machine—–
Is it impossible for you to let something go and have it go whole?
Must you stamp each piece purple,
Must you kill what you can?
There is one thing I want today, and only you can give it to me.
It stands at my window, big as the sky.
It breathes from my sheets, the cold dead center
Where split lives congeal and stiffen to history.
Let it not come by the mail, finger by finger.
Let it not come by word of mouth, I should be sixty
By the time the whole of it was delivered, and to numb to use it.
Only let down the veil, the veil, the veil.
If it were death
I would admire the deep gravity of it, its timeless eyes.
I would know you were serious.
There would be a nobility then, there would be a birthday.
And the knife not carve, but enter
Pure and clean as the cry of a baby,
And the universe slide from my side.
Sylvia Plath (October 27, 1932 – February 11, 1963) was an American poet, novelist and short story writer. Born in Massachusetts, she studied at Smith College and Newnham College Cambridge before receiving acclaim as a professional poet and writer.
She married fellow poet Ted Hughes in 1956 and they lived together first in the United States and then England, having two children together: Frieda and Nicholas. Following a long struggle with depression and a marital separation, Plath committed suicide in 1963.
Controversy continues to surround the events of her life and death, as well as her writing and legacy. They found Plath dead of carbon monoxide poisoning in the kitchen, with her head in the oven, having sealed the rooms between herself and her sleeping children with wet towels and cloths. At approximately 4.30 am, Plath had placed her head in the oven, while the gas was turned on, with the pilot light unlit. She was 30.
Plath is credited with advancing the genre of confessional poetry and is best known for her two collections The Colossus and Other Poems and Ariel. In 1982, she became the first poet to win a Pulitzer Prize posthumously for The Collected Poems. She also authored The Bell Jar, a semi-autobiographical novel published shortly before her death.
NPR – By Bob Mondello (Listen To The Story)
When football star Pat Tillman was killed in Afghanistan in 2004, he was hailed by the Bush administration as a hero who died in combat. Weeks later, a more complicated story emerged, after his family challenged the administration’s version of events. Now a documentary, The Tillman Story, chronicles the uncovering of what it suggests is a cover-up.
Tillman, an all-star defensive back with the Arizona Cardinals, had walked away from a multimillion-dollar contract to enlist in the Army just a few months after the World Trade Center came down. He was perhaps the most famous enlisted man in the armed services, and he was lionized when news came two years later that he’d been killed in an ambush by the Taliban. His actions, said military sources, had saved his comrades. The media drumbeat was insistent. Tillman had ordered his men up a hill to attack, they reported; he’d been heard issuing commands to take the fight to the enemy.
None of this, The Tillman Story says, was true.
An investigation eventually showed that Tillman died by friendly fire, and at least one of his fellow soldiers says there were no enemy forces present. Tillman’s family says they learned weeks later that the inspiring story the military had circulated was a fabrication, based on reports the government knew to be false. The film shows a paper trail — including a leaked top-secret document known as a P4 Memo, sent to the White House by Gen. Stanley McChrystal — that seems to trace that knowledge of falsehood high into the Bush administration.
That memo, says Tillman’s mother, is evidence that the government knew early on what the family came to believe later — that the official story was a lie. Meanwhile, Tillman’s wife, Marie, was resisting pressure to turn the family’s private funeral into an occasion for patriotic grandstanding and full military honors.
Director Amir Bar-Lev finds a riveting detective story here — how the family forced an Army investigation and then forced Congress to investigate that investigation, each time with additional embarrassing admissions from public officials.
The Tillman Story is ferocious filmmaking, but it wouldn’t have half the force it does if the director didn’t also get at the complicated man Pat Tillman was — the football star who volunteered to serve in a war he later doubted the logic for; the avowed atheist who read the Book of Mormon. As you get a sense of Tillman the man, you better understand his family’s fury at the flag-waving being done in his name.
And when the director finally takes his camera to the rocky, barren valley where Tillman died and re-creates how the military now says it happened, all hope of clarity evaporates. The notion of an accidental shooting in battle conjures up images of murky sightlines, stray shots coming out of nowhere. But when you see the actual terrain — where Tillman was standing, where his comrades were — if it’s hard to say how the tragedy happened, it’s harder to imagine it happening the way they say. You emerge from The Tillman Story feeling a little of what the Tillman family must: that the whole truth about his death hasn’t yet been told, and may never be.
A teacher in the US has resigned after accidentally publishing a tirade of abuse against staff and pupils on her Facebook page.
SkyNews – By Greg Milam
Dr June Talvitie-Siple thought her comments would only be seen by her friends.
Instead, the whole town of Cohasset in Massachusetts is in uproar and Dr Talvatie-Siple has now left her job at the local high school.
In her Facebook comments, she wrote that the swanky waterfront town was “arrogant” and “snobby”.
She went on to say: “I’m so not looking forward to another year at Cohasset schools.
“Now I remember why I stopped teaching! Kids… they are all germ bags.”
But the maths and science teacher has come out fighting.
She said: “I don’t regret the comments I made because I thought I made them in confidence.”
“I’m human. I know a lot about technology but I still made a mistake. Not everybody is arrogant and the kids are great, they’re not germ bags. It is a joke.”
The school’s assistant superintendent Alfred Slanetz, confirming Dr Talvitie-Siple’s departure, said: “It is really unfortunate what happened.
“I think the lesson at the end of the day is that whatever you put on these social networking sites like Facebook you should consider it could become public.”
Dr Talvitie-Siple’s comments have been condemned by parents, pupils and fellow members of staff at Cohasset High School.
Parent Shannon King: “These kids are supposed to be looking up to their teachers and elders in the school and this is disappointing for them to hear.”
Student Mackenzie Hart: “I think teachers should have a little more respect for their students and their school.”
And fellow teacher Patricia McGrail said: It is very upsetting to hear those characterisations about the parents that we work so closely with on a daily basis.”
The story serves as a reminder to the millions of people using social networking sites of the risks of publishing their thoughts.
Dr Talvitie-Siple said: “It wasn’t like I was intending to go out there and lambast anyone, it was just moment of frustration and I thought I had my privacy settings correct on Facebook.”
Related (Academia): About Dr Talvitie-Siple
Boston Herald: School official tells it like it is
A proposal to install a chain of human-shaped pylons across Iceland – transforming an ugly utility into something of remarkable beauty – has won a leading architecture award.
Telegraph – By Matthew Moore
The “Land of Giants” plan would have seen dozens of metallic figures erected across the island’s volcanic landscape.
In June, conservationists warned that the country’s most beautiful landscapes – including the Mendip Hills in Somerset and Dedham Vale in Suffolk – are under threat from a new wave of high-voltage pylons.
According the proposals submitted to an Icelandic energy company, the pylons would stand around 150ft tall and be constructed from steel, glass and concrete.
Despite their striking appearance, costs would be kept low as the figures would require only minor alterations to standard pylon designs.
The firm wrote: “These iconic pylon-figures will become monuments in the landscape. Seeing the pylon-figures will become an unforgettable experience, elevating the towers to something more than merely a functional design of necessity.”
The judging committee of the High-Voltage Pylon Competition, which was established to find an innovative design for Iceland’s new pylon network in 2008, gave the proposals an honourable mention.
While the human pylons not be to everybody’s taste, they point towards more aesthetically pleasing alternatives to the imposing towers that currently dominate the British countryside.
Although Landsnet, the company responsible for managing the country’s electricity network, decided not to push ahead with the plans, their originality was honoured this month by the influential Boston Society of Architects.
Land of Giants was one of four winners of the BSA’s annual Unbuilt Architecture Award, which recognises the boldness of unrealised projects.
Choi + Shine, the US architecture practice behind the proposal, said that the humanoid towers would be “powerful, solemn and variable”, and represent a modern take on the ancient Easter Island statues.
Each humanoid electricity pylon could be twisted into a different posture, allowing the structures to project moods fitting with their surroundings.
NY Times – By EMILY B. HAGER
Jeremy Sparig spent months fighting bedbugs. Now, to some people, he is like a mattress left on the street, something best avoided in these times.
“They don’t want to hug you anymore; they don’t want you coming over,” said Mr. Sparig, of East Williamsburg, Brooklyn. “You’re like a leper.”
At the Brooklyn district attorney’s office, which recently had a bedbug breakout, defense lawyers are skittish about visiting, and it is not because of the fierce prosecutors.
Even Steven Smollens, a housing lawyer who has helped many tenants with bedbugs, has his guard up. Those clients are barred from his office. “I meet outside,” he said. “There’s a Starbucks across the street.”
Beyond the bites and the itching, the bother and the expense, victims of the nation’s most recent plague are finding that an invisible scourge awaits them in the form of bedbug stigma. Friends begin to keep their distance. Invitations are rescinded. For months, one woman said, her mother was afraid to tell her that she had an infestation. When she found out and went to clean her mother’s apartment, she said, “Nobody wanted to help me.”
Fear and suspicion are creeping into the social fabric wherever bedbugs are turning up, which is almost everywhere: “Public health agencies across the country have been overwhelmed by complaints about bedbugs,” said a joint statement this month from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Some of the fear is rooted in fact: The bugs, while they are not known to transmit disease, can travel on clothing, jump into pocketbooks and lurk in the nooks of furniture. And they do, of course, bite…
Businesses are fearing the stigma as well, as reports of infestations multiply. In recent weeks, bedbugs snuggled into the seats at AMC’s movie theater in Times Square, crept around a Victoria’s Secret store on Lexington Avenue and the offices of Elle Magazine and hitchhiked into the Brooklyn district attorney’s office.
“There were attorneys that didn’t want to come to our building,” said an assistant district attorney who would identify herself only as Caroline A. “I don’t blame them; I wouldn’t want to go somewhere where there is known to be bedbugs.”
But those places are becoming increasingly hard to avoid. Bedbugs, once nearly eradicated, have spread across New York City, in part because of the decline in the use of DDT. According to the city’s Department of Housing and Preservation, the number of bedbug violations has gone up 67 percent in the last two years. In the most recent fiscal year, which ended on June 30, the city’s 311 help line recorded 12,768 bedbug complaints, 16 percent more than the previous year and 39 percent above the year before. A New York City community health survey showed that in 2009, 1 in 15 New Yorkers had bedbugs in their homes, a number that is probably higher now.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that bedbugs’ social cost is rising as well.
The Upper West Side caterer’s best friend was too scared to invite her to come out to the Hamptons this summer. When Hilary Davis, a waitress from Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, had her apartment treated two years ago because of bedbugs, her friends and even her boyfriend refused to take her in. (But they were willing to take care of her cat.) “So I was left in a bug-ridden apartment alone,” Ms. Davis said.
Everyday behaviors are changing, too. “I don’t go to the movies anymore, I’m not sitting in those seats, and don’t sit on wooden benches,” said Gale A. Brewer, a member of the City Council. When she sees a mattress in her path, she said, she crosses the street.
But the panic, certainly, is not widespread. “It’s all part of life,” said Janice Page of the Bronx, who recently thought she had received two bites while traveling in California. (They turned out to be mosquito bites.) “What am I going to do? Walk around with a fumigation can?”
“It’s like terrorism,” said a woman as she ran into the recently sprayed AMC theater. “Just cross your fingers and keep going.”…]
“The living have ‘Hola,’ so why shouldn’t the dead have ‘Adiós’?”
EL PAÍS – INÉS MUÑOZ MARTÍNEZ-MORA
Discussing death openly is perhaps the last remaining taboo in many cultures — including Spain’s. Death either becomes the subject of gallows humor, or is simply too great a reality for most of us to bear. And it’s not just its philosophical implications we find hard to deal with; as anybody who has lost a loved one knows, the practical aspects of funeral arrangements while coming to terms with loss can be overwhelming.
At first glance, perhaps thanks to its title, Adiós looks like some kind of dark joke. Set up in 1996 by journalist Jesús Pozo, it is mainly a trade publication, but it is written for a wider public. Published on a bi-monthly basis, the magazine is distributed for free at undertakers, retirement homes, crematoria, cemeteries and hospitals.
Adiós’ brief is death in all its aspects. In the latest edition there is news that will be of interest to the funeral sector (“Death rates in Asturias double those of the Canary Islands); along with an article about the trend in Puerto Rico for embalming the dead in different positions (The piece is entitled: “A matter of posture”). There is also a story about how the Western will always be around (“The Western isn’t going to die on us”); as well as regular features such as Tanatacuentos, where readers are invited to send in stories related to death. And, of course, there is the Lapidarios strip cartoon. There is even a special advertising section featuring mortuary paraphernalia, such as environmentally friendly coffins and autopsy tables.
Pozo says that despite our reluctance to discuss the subject, attitudes toward death have changed, something that Adiós tries to reflect. For example, the music played at funerals. “Chopin’s funeral march went out a long time ago,” says Pozo. “These days, we play the deceased’s favorite tunes.
The same applies to the urns used for the ashes: nowadays they can be made out of anything, from environmentally friendly boxes using compressed almond shells, to porcelain vases,” says Pozo. There is even a company in Valencia that makes Real Madrid or Barcelona FC coffins, says Pozo. “And there are soccer grounds, such as that of Atlético Madrid, where you can have your ashes kept,” he adds.
Death, like life, is constantly evolving, it would seem. “We could be on the verge of a major breakthrough for funerals,” says Pozo, outlining a story in the latest edition of Adiós. “In the United States, they have come up with a new incineration system that produces pollution-free ashes. Funerary technology is moving ahead at light speed,” he says. Whether the US fashion for burying people in their beds will catch on is another matter, though, he explains.
Pozo, currently enjoying a summer break in his native Almería, says that the funeral business has not been hit as hard as other areas of the economy by the recession — and not just because this is a business that will never be short of customers: 65 percent of funerals are paid for directly by insurance policies.
“But there has been an impact. In the last two years, there has been a threefold increase in cases where families can’t pay for a funeral. Before, families would take out a niche in a cemetery for storing ashes for 90 years — now it’s 50 years. And people are spending less on funerals. Where there would once have been six wreathes, now there are two. Cremations are also becoming more popular — not just because they are cheaper, but because people like the idea of simply scattering somebody’s ashes. The fact of the matter is that you can spend as much as you want on a funeral from 600 up to 2 million,” says Pozo, adding wryly: “The sad part is that you pay for the whole thing, but aren’t there to enjoy it, so to speak.”
Adiós itself has not been spared the effects of the crisis: its print run has been cut by more than half, from 10,000 to 4,000. Pozo says that he took up the job of editing Adiós after he lost his position at daily newspaper Diario 16, back in the early 1990s.
He was contacted by the Empresa Mixta de Servicios Funerarios de Madrid, the privately run company that took over the region’s funeral business around the same time. The company, in which the regional government still holds a controlling stake, runs Madrid’s 13 municipal cemeteries.
“We still don’t really know how to discuss death. It has gone from being present in all aspects of life to something we want to hide away. At the same time as we have adopted Halloween, we still want to protect children from knowing about death properly,” says Pozo.
“They asked me to create a publication, so I suggested that 60 percent of the content should be directly about death, albeit from different perspectives, such as a cultural one. I wanted it to be a publication that discussed death seriously. Adiós is an effort to normalize death, not to dramatize it.”
Indeed, Pozo admits to having tried to bring a little levity to the subject: “The typeface we use for the masthead is called Futura,” he muses. As for the name itself, Pozo says he thought about it long and hard. “Initially all I could come up with were horrible names like ‘Coffin,’ and then I suddenly realized that the living have Hola, so why shouldn’t the dead have Adiós?”