Feb. 17, 2006
Down on My Knees
Poem: "Down on My Knees" by Ginger Andrews from An Honest Answer. © Story Line Press. Reprinted with permission.
Down on My Knees
cleaning out my refrigerator
and thinking about writing a religious poem
that somehow combines feeling sorry for myself
with ordinary praise, when my nephew stumbles in for coffee
to wash down what looks like a hangover
and get rid of what he calls hot dog water breath.
I wasn't going to bake the cake
now cooling on the counter, but I found a dozen eggs tipped
sideways in their carton behind a leftover Thanksgiving Jell-O dish.
There's something therapeutic about baking a devil's food cake,
whipping up that buttercream frosting,
knowing your sisters will drop by and say Lord yes
they'd love just a little piece.
Everybody suffers, wants to run away,
is broke after Christmas, stayed up too late
to make it to church Sunday morning. Everybody should
drink coffee with their nephews,
eat chocolate cake with their sisters, be thankful
and happy enough under a warm and unexpected January sun.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It was on this day in 1972 that President Richard Nixon departed on his historic trip to China, with the goal of normalizing relations between the two countries. At the time, this was a hugely ambitious and controversial thing to do, and Nixon had been keeping his plans about it secret from Congress and even most of his administration for months. Henry Kissinger was one of the only people Nixon briefed on the plan until it was publicly announced in the summer of 1971.
At the time, relations were so nonexistent with China that the White House didn't even have any Chinese contacts to communicate with. Nixon had to contact the Chinese government through European diplomats.
Nixon's idea was that if he could normalize relations with China, he could play China off against Russia, and he could play Russia off against China. And he might he able to persuade China to help end the war in Vietnam.
Nixon spent months preparing for his trip, being briefed by all kinds of Chinese experts, including the French novelist André Malraux. When the day of the trip finally arrived, Nixon still didn't even know if he'd be able to meet with Mao Tse-tung. It would be a huge political blunder if he traveled all the way to the country and didn't meet its leader, but he decided to gamble.
Because New York City was thirteen hours behind China, Nixon's arrival was carried live on prime-time news across the United States. Americans watched as Nixon exited the plane with a Red Army band playing "The Star Spangled Banner." He spent the next several days visiting the Great Wall, the Ming Tombs, the Forbidden City, and the Great Hall of the People, all of them perfect photo opportunities. At various banquets, the Red Army bands played more American tunes, including "America the Beautiful" and "Home on the Range."
Nixon did finally get to meet with Mao Tse-tung, and he learned that the uncertainty about the meeting came from the fact that Mao was on his deathbed. But the trip was a success, and relations were normalized. It was regarded as Nixon's finest hour as a president. If it hadn't been for the Watergate scandal, Nixon probably would have been remembered chiefly as the man who brought China back into communication with the Western World.
It's the birthday of novelist Chaim Potok, born in the Bronx, New York (1929). He's the author of several novels about Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn and the Bronx, including The Chosen (1967), The Promise (1969), and The Book of Lights (1981).
It's the birthday of economist Thomas Robert Malthus, born in Surrey, England (1766). In 1798 he published a pamphlet called An Essay on the Principle of Population, in which he argued that the human population of the earth was growing at a faster rate than the food supply, and that war, disease, and famine were necessary in order to prevent overpopulation.
It's the birthday of folk poet Andrew "Banjo" Paterson, born in Narrambla, New South Wales, Australia (1864). He's credited with writing the lyrics to the ballad "Waltzing Matilda," sometimes called Australia's unofficial national anthem.
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®