Thursday

Apr. 28, 2005

Knowledge

by Susan Cataldo

THURSDAY, 28 APRIL, 2005
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Poem: "Knowledge" by Susan Cataldo from drenched: Selected Poems of Susan Cataldo 1979-1999. © Telephone Books. Reprinted with permission.

Knowledge

Kris said, You asked me two questions, why?
Why don't you ask me a Star Trek question next?
You asked me a Raymond Burr question & a
Pete Seeger question, why don't you ask me
a Robert Preston question? Like, what was
Robert Preston's real name? Robert Mescervey.
Or a James Stewart question? Like what did
James Stewart study in college? Architecture.
Or a Ricardo Montalban question? Like, where
was he born? Mexico City. That reminds me,
you can ask me an Abraham Lincoln question.
Like, what foods did he eat? He ate an apple
for breakfast, a biscuit & coffee for lunch
& sometimes he ate meat & potatoes for dinner.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the novelist Diane Johnson, born Moline, Illinois (1934). She's best known as the author of a trilogy about American expatriates in France: Le Divorce (1997), Le Mariage (2000) and her latest, L'Affaire (2003).]

It's the birthday of Harper Lee, born Nelle Harper in Monroeville, Alabama (1926). She went to law school, at the University of Alabama. She went to New York City where she got a job as a reservation clerk for an airline. She wanted to be a write, so she came home to write for about four hours every evening, and started working on a novel about the trial of a black man in a small town in Alabama.

And then on Christmas, 1956, a family she knew in Manhattan gave her a gift for Christmas—a check to give her one year off from her job to write whatever she pleased. And that year, Harper Lee wrote most of the first draft of To Kill a Mockingbird, (1960) which still sells about a million copies a year and which is studied in about three-fourths of all public middle schools and high school in America.


It's the anniversary of the mutiny on the Bounty—which took place in the south seas in 1789 on the British cargo ship the HMS Bounty—the most notorious mutiny in naval history. Wordsworth wrote a poem about it. Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" was based on it. And, of course, there was the famous book by Nordhoff and Hall, which was made into a movie. In that book, and in the movies, the villain of the story always was the brutal Captain Bligh, but historians have argued that Captain Bligh wasn't any harder than the average sea captain, and was actually the hero of the story.

Mutinies were relatively common at the time. During the Napoleonic Wars, there were more than a thousand of them in British naval records. And most scholars believe the cause of the mutiny on the Bounty wasn't the mutineers' feelings towards their captain so much as their feelings about the women on the islands that they had just left behind.

Captain Bligh was sent to the South Seas to pick up bread fruit trees from Tahiti and take them back to the West Indies. Tahiti seemed like a paradise to all of them. The women were so beautiful and compliant.

A few days after the ship had left Tahiti, 11 crew members burst into the captain's cabin, forced him out on the deck, dressed only in his nightshirt, put him in a small life boat. 17 other members of the ship volunteered to go with him. They were given some bread and pork and rum and wine and 28 gallons of water, and set adrift in the middle of the Pacific Ocean in a boat a little more than 20 feet long and 7 feet wide with one sail and 6 oars.

With so many men, so many supplies aboard, the boat sat low in the water, just about six inches to spare. They set out for the island of Timor, 3,900 miles away, and Captain Bligh, using only a compass and a sextant, navigated their way through the Great Barrier Reef. They went through several storms on short rations of less than an ounce of bread and four ounces of water a day, and after 48 days at sea, they reached the island of Timor where they were welcomed by Dutch settlers. It was one of the most extraordinary feats of navigation in naval history.


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