Word Cloud: RACE

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Elizabeth Alexander. The name may sound familiar.  If I say “the inauguration of President Barak Obama,” a lightbulb might go off, because she was there, reading her poem for that momentous occasion, “Praise Song for the Day.”

Elizabeth Alexander (1962 — ) was born in Harlem, but as a child in a politically active family, she grew up in Washington, DC. Her mother, Adele Logan Alexander, is also a writer, and teaches African-American women’s history at George Washington University.  Her father, Clifford Alexander Jr., is a former U. S. Secretary of the Army and and former Equal Employment Opportunity Commission chair. Her brother Mark was a senior adviser to the Obama presidential campaign and a member of the president-elect’s transition team.

Alexander as a toddler went with her family to the 1963 March on Washington to hear Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. “Politics was in the drinking water at my house,” she said, describing her childhood.

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Almost every family has at least one relative who never quite fits in with the rest, but Alexander’s Great-Uncle Paul was a pretty extreme case.


Sometimes I think about Great-Uncle Paul who left Tuskegee,
Alabama to become a forester in Oregon and in so doing
became fundamentally white for the rest of his life, except
when he traveled without his white wife to visit his siblings—
now in New York, now in Harlem, USA—just as pale-skinned,
as straight-haired, as blue-eyed as Paul, and black. Paul never told anyone
he was white, he just didn’t say that he was black, and who could imagine,
an Oregon forester in 1930 as anything other than white?Sitka-spruce
The siblings in Harlem each morning ensured
no one confused them for anything other than what they were, black.
They were black! Brown-skinned spouses reduced confusion.
Many others have told, and not told, this tale.
When Paul came East alone he was as they were, their brother.

The poet invents heroic moments where the pale black ancestor stands up
on behalf of the race. The poet imagines Great-Uncle Paul
in cool, sagey groves counting rings in redwood trunks,
imagines pencil markings in a ledger book, classifications,
imagines a sidelong look from an ivory spouse who is learning
her husband’s caesuras. She can see silent spaces
but not what they signify, graphite markings in a forester’s code.

Many others have told, and not told, this tale.
The one time Great-Uncle Paul brought his wife to New York
he asked his siblings not to bring their spouses,
and that is where the story ends: ivory siblings who would not
see their brother without their telltale spouses.
What a strange thing is “race,” and family, stranger still.
Here a poem tells a story, a story about race.

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She got her B.A from Yale. Then her mother said to her, “That poet you love, Derek Walcott, is teaching at Boston University. Why don’t you apply?” Alexander originally entered studying fiction writing, but Walcott looked at her diary and saw the poetry potential. Alexander said, “He gave me a huge gift. He took a cluster of words and he lineated it. And I saw it.”

Racism in America isn’t just a Southern thing, and the loneliness of a college student away from home is universal. Fortunately, no region, or group or religion has a monopoly on kindness to strangers.

Boston Year

My first week in Cambridge a car full of white boys
tried to run me off the road, and spit through the window,
open to ask directions. I was always asking directions
and always driving: to an Armenian market
in Watertown to buy figs and string cheese, apricots,
dark spices and olives from barrels, tubes of paste
with unreadable Arabic labels. I ate
stuffed grape leaves and watched my lips swell in the mirror.
The floors of my apartment would never come clean.Boston Trackless Trolley
Whenever I saw other colored people
in bookshops, or museums, or cafeterias, I’d gasp,
smile shyly, but they’d disappear before I spoke.
What would I have said to them? Come with me? Take
me home? Are you my mother? No. I sat alone
in countless Chinese restaurants eating almond
cookies, sipping tea with spoons and spoons of sugar.
Popcorn and coffee was dinner. When I fainted
from migraine in the grocery store, a Portuguese
man above me mouthed: “No breakfast.” He gave me
orange juice and chocolate bars. The color red
sprang into relief singing Wagner’s Walküre.
Entire tribes gyrated and drummed in my head.
I learned the samba from a Brazilian man
so tiny, so festooned with glitter I was certain
that he slept inside a filigreed, Fabergé egg.
No one at the door: no salesmen, Mormons, meter
readers, exterminators, no Harriet Tubman,
no one. Red notes sounding in a grey trolley town.

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Tiger Burning Bright

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

— from The Tyger by William Blake


The Big Cats  Lions, Cheetahs, Panthers, Snow Leopards, Mountain Lions, Tigers all the deadly cousins of our domestic tabbies are in danger of extinction in most of the world. So it’s rare to have some good news to report.

The magnificent Siberian Tiger (also known as the Amur Tiger) is making a modest comeback. There’s no guarantee it will last, but their numbers in the wild have risen by about 15% over the past decade, according to Sergei Donskoi, head of the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources, citing a preliminary report last May.

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ON THIS DAY: July 28, 2016

July 28th is


Buffalo Soldiers Day

Chili Dog Day

National Milk Chocolate Day

World Hepatitis Day

World Festivals and National Holidays

BermudaEmancipation Dayinternational Flags

Peru – Día de la Independencia

San Marino – Fall of Fascism Anniversary

Spain – Día de las Instituciones

Switzerland – Verbier Festival
(Classical Music – through August 4)

United Kingdom –
Cumbria: Kendal Calling
Wiltshire: Womad

On This Day in HISTORY

1540 – Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s chief minister, executed for treason

1635 – Robert Hook, astronomy- biology-light refraction pioneer, is born
1809 – Wellington’s British/Iberian troops defeat French at Battle of Talavera

1821 – José de San Martín declares Peru’s independence from Spain

1854 – The last all-sail U.S. Navy warship, USS Constellation, is commissioned

1866 – Beatrix Potter, beloved English author-illustrator of Peter Rabbit, is born

Beatrix Potter book cover

MORE! For Judy Garland, LBJ, Summer Jam and Summer Olympics, click

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Man and Bird: A Sweet Relationship

Mutualism: two organisms of different species in a relationship where each individual benefits from the activity of the other.

Yao hunter with honeyguide - Claire Spottiswoode

Honeyguides in northern Mozambique know when a Yao hunter makes a special trilling sound, he wants to find a bees’ nest — and its delectable honey. They will often lead humans to a nest in exchange for some honeycomb.

A honeyguide flies from tree to tree, calling and leading the person on, until the team reaches a bee nest. The person’s more risky job is to extract the honey from the nest.

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ON THIS DAY: July 27, 2016

July 27 is

Walk on Stilts DayBarbie-in-a-Blender

Scotch Whisky Day

Bagpipe Appreciation Day

Barbie-in-a-Blender Day

National Crème Brulee Day

World Festivals and National Holidays

Croatia – Tisno: SuncéBeatinternational Flags

North Korea – Victory Day

Southern Hemisphere – Yulefest

On This Day in HISTORY

1054 – Siward, Earl of Northumbria invades Scotland, defeating Scottish King Macbeth


1245 – Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II excommunicated
by Pope Gregory IX for failing to honor his pledge to lead
another Holy Land Crusade when Frederick turned back
because of illness. Frederick’s governing policies at home
helped establish the primacy of the Rule of Law, which
made him unpopular with both clerics and nobles

1299 – (Traditional date) Osman I invades Nicomedia, founding day of Ottoman Empire

1549 – Jesuit Francis Xavier’s ship reaches Japan.

1663 – Parliament passes 2nd Navigation Act, requiring all goods bound for the American colonies to be sent in English ships from English ports

There’s MORE! For Van Gogh, Bugs Bunny and Mama Cass, just click:

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Dearest Abigail Adams

On March 31, 1776, Abigail Adams penned a letter from their farm Peacefield to her husband, John Adams, laboring with the Continental Congress in Philadelphia to bring forth a new nation:

“…I long to hear that you have declared an independency. And, by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”


It was 144 years after Abigail’s letter desiring her husband to “remember the ladies” that American women finally got the right to vote all across the nation.

Today, 240 years after Abigail Adams wrote that famous letter, Hillary Rodham Clinton officially became the first woman candidate of a major political party for the Presidency of the United States of America.

It’s been a very long time coming, Abigail, and we still have so far to go, but I hope you are pleased this night.

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Happy Birthday Mozart!

Not THAT Mozart – this one:

Franz Xaver Wolfgang Mozart (1791-1844)


Franz “Wolfgang” was born in Vienna, five months before his father’s death, the younger of his parents’ two surviving children. He was a composer, pianist, conductor, and teacher from the late classical period whose musical style was of an early Romanticism, heavily influenced by his father’s mature style.

  • Overture in D major for orchestra – International New Symphony Orchestra Lemberg
  • Portrait of Franz Xaver Wolfgang Mozart by Karl Gottlieb Schweikart (1825)
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