When October 5 Became October 15

October 4, 1582: Pope Gregory XIII declared
the next day wouldn’t be the fifth.
It would be Friday, October 15, 1582.
Ten days from the Julian calendar gone.
And let’s call the new version Gregorian.


In the Pope’s defense, he was trying to fix the existing calendar which was 10 days out of sync with the seasons – but still, a Pope just zapping 10 days out of a year seems like a bit of a power grab. No birthday parties for those born October 5-14 that year.

Battle of the Guardian Angels

After the game has ended in defeat
with my son’s final strikeout, his mother
says “I prayed that your guardian angel
would allow you a walk-off home run.”
The pitcher’s mother prayed for a strikeout,”

he replies, and now, many years later
on this second of October memorial day
of the Guardian Angels, I happily play
with his child and pray the Angele Dei
for all of us still hoping here.

Guardian Angel

October 2 is celebrated in the Catholic Church as the Memorial of the Holy Guardian Angels and some people say the Guardian Angel prayer on this day.

Angel of God, my guardian dear,
to whom God’s love commits me here,
ever this day be at my side
to light and guard, to rule and guide.


It sounds obscene, but it’s toilet talk –
an old mechanism for filling water tanks,
somehow invented by a priest in 1790.
A ball-shaped float rises in the tank
signaling the cock-stop. Not obscene. But obscene.

I have always been fascinated with the origins of words, name,s and phrases. That has led me to do occasional posts at another site called Why Name It That? on the etymologies and origin stories of things. (The names of rock bands happen to be the most popular.) I wrote there in more detail about the ballcock (also less obscenely known as a balltap or float valve). It is the mechanism in flush toilets that using a float stops the tank from verflowing by lifting a valve (cock) to shut off the water.

Elizabeth and Robert Eloped

A secret year, of courting and mailing,
Browning tells Barrett he loves her poems.
He loves her and so they marry,
and escape to Italy. All that love
put into many sonnets. Count the ways.



Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning eloped in 1846 after courting in secret for a year and a half through the mail, unbeknownst to her father. It all started with a fan letter by Robert to poet Elizabeth.

They did finally meet face to face but Barrett’s father didn’t know about the courtship and didn’t like Browning. They married without family and Elizabeth returned to her father’s house where she stayed for one more week before she ran off to Italy with Browning. She never saw her father again.

Elizabeth gave her new husband a collection of poems she’d written during their courtship. It was published in 1850 as Sonnets from the Portuguese.

A Lock of Emily Dickinson’s Hair

is for sale on eBay for $450,000.
Perhaps stolen by James Merrill, perhaps found
in an envelope, addressed to sister-in-law Susan,
found in a volume of her poems.
Please buy it and bury it properly.


Photos: Yale University.

I saw this story online about the sale of what is thought to be a lock of Emily Dickinson’s hair. I realize that author mementos are common, sought after, and collected, but this just felt very wrong to me.

Maybe it was the interesting fact that the first collector was a poet, James Merrill, and it was then passed on to poet J.D. McClatchy, who had been one of Merrill’s literary executors, that bothers me. Shouldn’t poets be more respectful of other poets? Or was owning and taking care of this small piece of Emily’s DNA a way of showing respect?  Both poets are dead now and the lock of hair went up for sale.

If Emily did give this to Susan Dickinson, perhaps it should be with Susan’s possessions. Then again, perhaps Susan’s things have been sold by now too. I know her letters have been made available to the public.

I also know that keeping a lock of hair was once a common thing to do. My mother saved a lock of my baby hair in a photo album.

I wrote on another site about a recent auction of objects belonging to Sylvia Plath. Sylvia’s family authorized the sale. Plath’s deck of tarot cards sold for $200,000.

The article points out that “The only bona fide lock of Dickinson’s hair, which has been described as red or auburn, is kept at Amherst College.” The gift from descendants of Emily Fowler Ford, a friend of Emily Dickinson, included this note Emily included when she gave it to her friend.

“I said when the Barber came, I would save you a little ringlet,
and fulfilling my promise, I send you one today.
I shall never give you anything again that will be half so full of sunshine
as this wee lock of hair, but I wish no hue more sombre might ever fall to you.”