Thursday

Apr. 5, 2007

Family Reunion

by Jeredith Merrin

THURSDAY, 5 APRIL, 2007
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Poem: "Family Reunion" by Jeredith Merrin from Bat Ode. © The University of Chicago Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Family Reunion

The divorced mother and her divorcing
daughter. The about-to-be ex-son-in-law
and the ex-husband's adopted son.
The divorcing daughter's child, who is

the step-nephew of the ex-husband's
adopted son. Everyone cordial:
the ex-husband's second wife
friendly to the first wife, warm

to the divorcing daughter's child's
great-grandmother, who was herself
long ago divorced. Everyone
grown used to the idea of divorce

Almost everyone has separated
from the landscape of childhood.
Collections of people in cities
are divorced from clean air and stars.

Toddlers in day care are parted
from working parents, schoolchildren
from the assumption of unbloodied
daylong safety. Old people die apart

from all they've gathered over time,
and in strange beds. Adults
grow estranged from a God
evidently divorced from history;

most are cut off from their own
histories, each of which waits
like a child left at day care.
What if you turned back for a moment

and put your arms around yours?
Yes, you might be late for work;
no, your history doesn't smell sweet
like a toddler's head. But look

at those small round wrists,
that short-legged, comical walk.
Caress your history—who else will?
Promise to come back later.

Pay attention when it asks you
simple questions: Where are we going?
Is it scary? What happened? Can
I have more now? Who is that?

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of philosopher Thomas Hobbes, (books by this author) born in Westport, Wiltshire, England (1588). His most famous work is Leviathan (1651), in which he argued that the natural state of human beings is to be at war with one another, and that without a strong central government, human society would collapse into chaos. That book also established his theory of the social contract, which is the idea that people are willing to give up some of their rights to a governmental power in order to gain security for themselves. But the book was controversial, even among Hobbes' allies, because it included the idea that the people have the right to reject any government that does not adequately protect their security.


It was on this day in 1614 that John Rolfe and Pocahontas got married in the English colony of Jamestown, Virginia. The story of Pocahontas has become an American legend; it's been retold countless times, in history books, novels, poems, TV shows, and movies. Many versions distort the facts by focusing on Pocahontas' relationship with John Smith and ignoring her marriage to John Rolfe. The story goes that Smith was captured by the Powhatans and was about to be clubbed to death when a young Pocahontas ran out and took him in her arms, saving his life — but most historians think that Smith made up most of the story. John Davis, in his 1806 historical novel, The First Settlers of Virginia, added a dramatic romance between Smith and Pocahontas, and that romance has been included in most of the Pocahontas stories since then, including Disney's animated movie that came out in 1995.

But it was John Rolfe who married Pocahontas, after she had been abducted by the colonists. They had hoped they could use her as a bargaining chip with her father, the chief of the Powhatan tribe, to negotiate a peace treaty. The kidnapping didn't work out, but after John Rolfe fell in love with the girl, he got the chief's blessing, and the marriage led to a long period of peace between Jamestown and the Powhatan Indians.


It's the birthday of poet Algernon Charles Swinburne, (books by this author) born in London (1837). He was a poet who loved to read his own work aloud. Before going to a friend's house, he would place his manuscript in his breast pocket and then button up his coat to make the bulge of the book more obvious. He would wait for someone to notice the book, and if they didn't he would mention it himself. And then he would wait in silence until someone said, "Oh, please do read it." He would reply, "I had no intention in the world of boring you with it, but since you ask me. ..." And he would read.


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

 









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