Mar. 27, 2007

Son at Seventeen

by Francette Cerulli

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Poem: "Son at Seventeen" by Francette Cerulli from The Spirits Need to Eat. © Nine-Patch Press. Reprinted with permission.

Son at Seventeen

My son, an expert by overexposure,
recognizes the song before I do,
the best one of the year
about how sex is good for everybody.

This large man who was a boy a year ago
cranks up the radio till the car
is a bulging capsule of sound,
heavy on the bass.

As he drives, he sings every word loudly,
with cellular belief.
He will have it all, give it all
in his time, probably soon.

My heart begins to vibrate dangerously
at the lowest frequencies.
Tonight I feel old enough to be mother to a man.

I mime my fear to him,
My hand on my chest, my eyes wide.
I can feel it in my chest, I scream.

He stops singing long enough to nod,
Delighted that I have noticed.
It gets better, he yells.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the singer Sarah Vaughan, known as "The Divine One," born in Newark, New Jersey (1924).

It's the birthday of Louis Simpson, born in Jamaica, the British West Indies (1923). He's written 17 volumes of poetry, including At the End of the Open Road (1963), which won a Pulitzer that year.

It's the birthday of the clarinetist Pee Wee Russell, born in St. Louis, Missouri (1916). He played with Bix Beiderbecke, Eddie Condon, and others.

It was on this day in 1958 that Nikita Khrushchev (books by this author) assumed control of the Soviet Union when he took over as premier of the country, five years after the death of Joseph Stalin. Unlike most of the early Soviet leaders, who were all members of the Russian middle class, Khrushchev actually came from the working class. His father was a coal miner, and his grandfather had been a serf. Khrushchev worked his way up through the ranks of the party until he became a close ally of Joseph Stalin, and during the mass executions of 1930s, when Stalin purged the party of all his suspected political enemies, Khrushchev was one of only three provincial secretaries to survive.

So upon Stalin's death in 1953, when Khrushchev began to work behind the scenes to take control of the party, there was no reason to believe he wouldn't just continue Stalin's reign of terror. But instead, in 1956, Khrushchev gave a four-hour speech to the 20th Congress of the Soviet Communist Party, viciously attacking Stalin's legacy and abuses of power, detailing all the innocent people Stalin had imprisoned, tortured, and murdered during his reign. The night Khrushchev gave the speech, no one knew exactly what he was planning to say. Witnesses said later that some members of the audience fainted from the shock of hearing Stalin criticized. Several audience members committed suicide a few days later.

The speech was never officially announced to the public, and Khrushchev never admitted to having made it, but word of the speech immediately began to leak out to intellectual circles and the foreign press. It was a bombshell, and it helped bolster Khrushchev's power at home and abroad. He became the premier two years later, on this day in 1958.

Khrushchev spent his last few years living quietly in Moscow. But in 1970, the year before he died, he published the first volume of his memoirs, Khrushchev Remembers.

It's the birthday of the novelist Julia Alvarez, (books by this author) born in New York City (1950). She spent her childhood in the Dominican Republic, before moving to the United States. Her first big success was the novel How the García Girls Lost Their Accents (1991), about four sisters making their way as Dominican refugees in New York.

It's the birthday of the filmmaker Quentin Tarantino, (books by this author) born in Knoxville, Tennessee (1963). He was diagnosed as hyperactive as a kid, and didn't get along with his classmates or his teachers. The only things that calmed him down were comic books and movies. From the time when he was a toddler, his mother let him watch whatever movies he wanted. He watched everything from kung fu movies to French art house films.

He started taking acting classes, and in his spare time he rewrote screenplays of movies he'd already seen from memory. Instead of going to film school, he got a job at video rental store that had one of the largest video collections in Southern California. Several other aspiring filmmakers worked there, and they would watch movies all day at work, discussing camera angles and dialogue. He spent five years working at the video store, writing screenplays, but he wasn't getting anywhere in his career.

He finally got a break when he met an actor who knew another actor who knew Harvey Keitel, and Keitel agreed to look at one of Tarantino's scripts. Keitel was impressed enough to volunteer to help Tarantino produce the film, and to act in it himself. The result was Reservoir Dogs (1992), which made Tarantino internationally famous. His next film, Pulp Fiction, won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1994, and it went on to win an Academy Award for best screenplay.

These days, in addition to making movies, Tarantino organizes the semi-annual Quentin Tarantino Film Festival, which is devoted to B movies of various genres, including kung fu movies, horror movies, biker movies, cheerleader movies, and women-in-prison movies.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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