Apr. 2, 2001

Bugs in a Bowl

by David Budbill

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Poem: "Bugs in a Bowl," by David Budbill, from Moment to Moment: Poems of a Mountain Recluse (Copper Canyon Press).

Bugs in a Bowl

Han Shan, that great and crazy, wonder-filled Chinese poet of a thousand years ago, said:

We're just like bugs in a bowl. All day going around never leaving their bowl.

I say, That's right! Every day climbing up
the steep sides, sliding back.

Over and over again. Around and around.
Up and back down.

Sit in the bottom of the bowl, head in your hands,
cry, moan, feel sorry for yourself.

Or. Look around. See your fellow bugs.
Walk around.

Say, Hey, how you doin'?
Say, Nice Bowl!

It's the birthday of novelist George MacDonald Fraser, born in Carlisle, England (1925), best known for his Harry Flashman novels.

On this day in 1917, President Woodrow Wilson called on Congress to declare war on Germany. Appearing before a joint session he said, "The world must be made safe for democracy." It was approved by the House on April 4, and then, two days later, by the Senate. When the war ended, a year and a half later, 9-1/2 million soldiers had died and 13 million civilians.

It's the birthday of novelist Émile Zola, born in Paris (1840), France's best-known writer of the 19th century. He was just 19 years old when Charles Darwin's Origin of Species (1859) came out. Zola was struck by it: he felt that it summed up the meaning of life in Paris where the poor had a continual struggle to survive. He started writing short stories, and then novels, experimenting with a style of literature he called 'naturalism.' His most famous work was a cycle of 20 novels, published roughly one a year throughout the 1870s and the 1880s: the Rougon-Macquart cycle. Among the novels in the cycle are The Drunkard (1877), Nana (1880), and Germinal (1885).

It's the birthday of Hans Christian Andersen, born in Odense, Denmark (1805). He grew up in poverty and went off to Copenhagen, seeking an education and a life in the theater—it was his dream to write a hit for the Copenhagen stage. He never accomplished this, but he did write 168 fairy tales, which he came to accept as his real contribution to literature. His stories were not written in the flowery literary style of the day, but in everyday language: "The Little Match Girl," "The Little Mermaid," "The Ugly Duckling," "The Emperor's New Clothes," "The Snow Queen," and many others.

On this day in 1513, the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León, while seeking the mythical fountain of youth, became the first European to set foot in Florida. He landed on the east coast of Florida, near what is now St. Augustine, but didn't realize he was on the mainland of North America. He supposed he had landed on a very large island, which he named Florida, because of the lush vegetation. He returned eight years later (1521), was struck by the poisoned arrow of a Seminole Indian, and died.

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