Sep. 14, 2007

Love at First Sight

by Jennifer Maier

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Poem: "Love at First Sight" by Jennifer Maier from Dark Alphabet. © Southern Illinois University Press, 2006. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Love at First Sight

You always hear about it—
a waitress serves a man two eggs
over easy and she says to the cashier,
That is the man I'm going to marry,
and she does. Or a man spies a woman
at a baseball game; she is blond
and wearing a blue headband,
and, being a man, he doesn't say this
or even think it, but his heart is a homing bird
winging to her perch, and next thing you know
they're building birdhouses in the garage.
How do they know, these auspicious lovers?
They are like passengers on a yellow
bus painted with the dreams
of innumerable lifetimes, a packet
of sepia postcards in their pocket.
And who's to say they haven't traveled
backward for centuries through borderless
lands, only to arrive at this roadside attraction
where Chance meets Necessity and says,
What time do you get off?

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of philosopher and educator Allan Bloom, (books by this author) born in Indianapolis, Indiana (1930). He's best known as the author of The Closing of the American Mind (1987), about what he believed was the decline of higher education in the United States.

He was a professor of philosophy at the University of Chicago and at Cornell, and he witnessed the student protests in the 1960s that forced universities to stop teaching their required Western civilization classes. He argued that by giving up on the Western canon of literature, Americans had given up on wisdom. He wrote, "We are like ignorant shepherds living on a site where great civilizations once flourished. [We] play with the fragments that pop up to the surface, having no notion of the beautiful structures of which they were once a part."

It was on this day in 1812 that Napoleon's army invaded the city of Moscow. The troops were exhausted and hungry by the time they reached Moscow. Napoleon's secretary later wrote, "A curious and impressive sight was this sudden appearance of the great city ... spreading out at the end of a naked plain, topped with its 1,200 spires and sky-blue cupolas, strewn with golden stars, and linked one to the other with gilded chains."

Napoleon was eager for battle, and he had hoped to capture shelter and provisions when they took the city. But as they approached, they found the gates standing open and the streets deserted. Then they noticed that all over the city, small fires had started. The Russians had set fire to their own city. By that night, the fires were out of control.

The French writer Stendhal was among the soldiers that day, and he watched the city burn. He wrote in his diary, "It was a splendid spectacle, but it would have been better to be alone, or else surrounded by intelligent people in order to enjoy it."

Since it was impossible to spend the winter in the ruined city, Napoleon began his retreat on October 19 across the snow-covered plains. It was one of the great disasters of military history. Thousands died of starvation and hypothermia. Of the nearly 500,000 men who had set out in June, fewer than 20,000 French soldiers survived.

It was on this day in 1901 that then Vice President Theodore Roosevelt learned he had become the 26th president of the United States, after the death by assassination of President William McKinley.

Roosevelt was on a camping trip in the Adirondacks when he got the news that McKinley was on his deathbed, and he rode a buckboard wagon down the mountain in the middle of the night to learn that he had become the youngest president of the United States.

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