Sep. 2, 2007

Adequate Love

by Jerry Roscoe

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Poem: "Adequate Love" by Jerry Roscoe, from The Unexamined Life. © Custom Words, 2007. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Adequate Love

My son cries
Until I zip him into the denim pouch
That ties around my back like an apron.
Inside, with only his dreams,
He can believe life is still perfect.
But as I work, his forehead knocks against
My breastbone, reminding him this world
Is hard. All we have
Is the musculature of words
To protect the notion.
His eyes open on
Warmed, reconstituted powdered formula,
A plastic pacifier, adequate love
To wean him away from heaven.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1945 that Japan formally surrendered to the United States, marking the end of World War II. It was a gray, overcast day. The surrender took place on the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, the sunken wrecks of Japanese ships all around the harbor, left over from American bombings.

General MacArthur came aboard at 9:00. A few minutes later, the Japanese contingent arrived. The Japanese foreign minister walked slowly, wearing a frock coat and top hat. When he had taken his place, a naval chaplain delivered an invocation and a recording of "The Star-Spangled Banner" was played.

The witnesses said that General MacArthur was in a terrible mood. He barely looked at the Japanese and seemed impatient to get the whole thing over with. The whole signing ceremony took about 10 minutes, and most of it was carried out in silence. When it was over, MacArthur said, "Let us pray that peace be now restored to the world and that God will preserve it always. These proceedings are now closed." And with that, he walked off the ship, without having ever formally acknowledging the Japanese men who'd just surrendered to him. The Japanese were then escorted from the ship. In less than half an hour, the bloodiest war in history had come to an end.

It's the birthday of Austrian novelist and journalist Joseph Roth, (books by this author) born in Brody, Ukraine (1894). He started out as a journalist just after the end of the First World War, and he covered the riots and assassinations and political uprisings that went on all over Europe during the 1920s and '30s. He wrote his novels in between newspaper deadlines, while sitting at café counters. But despite his time constraints, he managed to produce 16 novels in 16 years.

His only successful novel in his lifetime was Job (1930), a modern retelling of the biblical story. It was translated into English and became a Book-of-the-Month-Club selection. Roth was inspired by his small success to try writing a big ambitious book, and the result was his masterpiece, The Radetsky March (1932), a historical novel about the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The book had just come out when Hitler came to power in Germany, and Roth had to flee the country. As a result, he lost his publishers, his newspaper employers, and his readers.

Roth spent his last years in Paris, living in poverty and suffering from alcoholism. When he died in 1939, he was largely unknown as a writer. The Nazis had done their best to get rid of all of his books. Since he had lived on the road, he hadn't kept manuscripts or papers with him, so it took a team of friends to track down all of his writings. They even went through old copies of newspapers to find all the articles he'd written and published them in collected volumes. It's only been in the last few years that all of his work has been translated into English, and he's now considered one of the greatest European writers of the mid-20th century. A translation of The Collected Stories of Joseph Roth came out in 2002.

On this day in 1946 Eugene O'Neill's play The Iceman Cometh opened on Broadway. It's the story of a group of drinkers at bar called Harry Hope's Saloon who are waiting for the arrival of their friend Hickey, the salesman. But when he shows up, Hickey's sober, and he tries to persuade everybody at the bar to stop living on whiskey and pipedreams and start being real. It got great reviews, though some critics complained that it was a little too long at more than four hours. It only ran for only 136 performances. It was the last of O'Neill's plays to be produced in his lifetime.

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