May 26, 2004
The Lost House
Poems: "The Lost House," by David Mason, from Arrivals. © Story Line Press. Reprinted with permission.
The Lost House
A neighbor girl went with me near the creek,
entered the new house they were building there
with studs half-covered. Alone in summer dark,
we sat together on the plywood floor.
The shy way I contrived it, my right hand
slipped insinuatingly beneath her blouse
in new maneuvers, further than I planned.
I thought we floated in the almost-house.
Afraid of what might happen, or just afraid,
I stopped. She stood and brushed the sawdust off.
Fifteen that summer, we knew we could have strayed.
Now, if I saw it in a photograph,
I couldn't tell you where that new house stood.
One night the timbered hillside thundered down
like a dozen freight trains, crashing in a flood
that splintered walls and made the owners run.
By then I had been married and divorced.
The girl I reached for in unfinished walls
had moved away as if by nature's course.
The house was gone. Under quiet hills
the creek had cut new banks, left silt in bars
that sprouted alder scrub. No one would know,
cruising the dead-end road beneath the stars,
how we had trespassed there so long ago.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It's the birthday of poet and novelist Maxwell Bodenheim, born in Hermanville, Mississippi (1892). His family was among the only Jews in rural Mississippi, and after his father's store went bankrupt, his family moved to Chicago. He became friends with the poet Carl Sandburg, and published his first poems in Poetry magazine. He published many books of poetry in the 1920s, including Against This Age (1923), and he wrote several best-selling erotic novels, including Replenishing Jessica (1925) and Naked on Roller Skates (1930).
It's the birthday of Robert W. Chambers, born in Brooklyn, New York (1865). He was one of the most popular writers of the early twentieth century. He's best known as the author of supernatural tales like those in his book of short stories The King in Yellow (1895).
It was on this day in 1521 that the German priest and theologian Martin Luther was declared an outlaw by the Edict of Worms. The edict made Luther more of a hero than he already was, and it's a big reason that Protestantism caught on so quickly.
Luther decided to become a priest after getting caught out in a thunderstorm one night. He swore to God that if he survived he would enter the religious life. He did survive, and he went on to study theology, become ordained, and get a job as a professor in Wittenberg. As he became more and more involved in the Church, he began to grow disgusted with some of its practices. He was especially angry about the Church's sales of indulgences, which were said to decrease the time a person had to spend in Purgatory.
On the eve of All Saints Day in 1517, Luther posted ninety-five theses attacking the sale of indulgences to the door of his church. He wrote, "All those who consider themselves secure in their salvation through letters of indulgence will be eternally damned, and so will their teachers." There were thousands of peasants and pilgrims in town to observe All Saints Day, and the pamphlets caused a sensation. They were originally written in Latin, but they became so popular that people demanded they be translated into German, and so they were. Hundreds of copies were printed up on a printing press, which was still a fairly recent invention, and Luther's message spread throughout Germany and Europe.
Luther was threatened by church leaders, but he continued to publish controversial writings that attacked the church hierarchy. When the Pope issued an indictment of him, Luther burned a copy of it in a bonfire at his university. Religious leaders and politicians began to realize how dangerous he was becoming to the traditional church, and in April of 1521, a group of Roman princes pressured Emperor Charles V into forming an assembly to try to get Luther to reject his writings.
On his trip to Worms, Luther was celebrated as a hero at most of the towns he passed through. People hugged him and showered him with gifts, and he told them he would battle the Pope in Worms "though opposed by all the gates of hell and the powers of the air." When he arrived in Worms on April 16 he was cheered and welcomed by a crowd of people.
Luther had to appear twice before the emperor, and each time he was told to take back his teachings. He said, "Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason . . . my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe."
Luther had a letter of safe conduct that gave him twenty-one days of safe travel through Germany, but as soon as he left the assembly he was declared an outlaw, which meant that he could be killed by anybody without the threat of punishment. He went into hiding in the Wartburg, where he grew out his hair and beard. Within a year, he moved back to Wittenberg, which had become the center of the Protestant Reformation.
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