Nov. 1, 2007

Jet Lag

by Eve Robillard

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Poem: "Jet Lag" by Eve Robillard, from when gertrude married alice. © Parallel Press, 2004. Reprinted with permission.

Jet Lag

He flies over the ocean to see his girl, his Sorbonne
girl, his ginger-skinned girl waiting for him in the City

of Light. Everywhere river and almost-spring gardens,
everywhere bridges and rainy statues. Streets going

nowhere, streets going on all night. I love you my mona
my lisa, my cabbage, my gargoyle, Degas' little dancer

in dawn's ragged gown. But on the third day she
picks up her books, tells him she needs to study:

she adores this town, she's not coming home in May, she's
going to stay all summer. Lowers her morning-calm eyes.

He's all right in the cab, all right on the plane droning
him home in only three hours American-key in his lock now

his tick-tock apartment, shiver his shadow, his need
to sleep. Then with a tiredness washing over and

over him and through his raveling bones
he begins to know.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of novelist and short-story writer Stephen Crane, (books by this author) born in Newark (1871), whose novel The Red Badge of Courage (1895) came out when he was just 24. It's about the Civil War soldier Henry Fleming who runs away from his first real battle, wanders through the wilderness, stumbling upon corpses and wounded soldiers, until he finally joins back up with his regiment and fights well on the front line of a major battle. Crane had been inspired to write the book by some old magazines with illustrated articles about the war, but people said it was the most realistic war novel ever written, and no one could believe that its author was a 24-year-old who'd never been in battle himself. Civil War veterans wrote into newspapers claiming that they had fought beside Crane in various battles. The whole experience made Crane feel like a fraud. He wrote to an editor at the time, "[I believe] that the nearer a writer gets to life, the greater he becomes as an artist." So he decided that he had to see a real war himself.

In 1896, he learned that there was a civil war brewing in Cuba, so he hopped a ship for Cuba on New Year's Eve that year. But before his ship got very far, it began to sink. Crane spent the next 30 hours in a lifeboat with three other men, paddling the 15 miles back to Daytona Beach, praying that they wouldn't capsize. Their boat was swamped just before they made land, they had to swim to shore, and one of Crane's shipmates was drowned. Crane spent the next several weeks writing about the experience in his classic short story "The Open Boat," (1898), which begins, "None of them knew the color of the sky."

Crane never did get to Cuba, but he finally saw a war for real in Greece, and wrote to his friend Joseph Conrad, "I have found [war] as I imagined it." He went on to cover the Spanish American War and watched the Battle of San Juan Hill wearing a white raincoat. But he died of tuberculosis in 1900, a few months shy of his 29th birthday. His writing career had lasted only eight years.

Today is All Saints' Day, and Pope Julius II chose this day in 1512 to display Michelangelo's paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel for the first time. It was not a job that Michelangelo wanted. He was primarily a sculptor at the time. But Pope Julius II wouldn't take no for an answer. The work required Michelangelo to apply wet plaster to the ceiling and then paint over it before it dried, and he had to do this on more than 10,000 square feet, more than 60 feet above the ground. He almost gave up after a few weeks of work, because his plaster kept growing mold, but a local architect pointed out that Michelangelo was using too much water in his plaster mix.

He chose as his subject nine scenes from the biblical Book of Genesis, including three scenes of the Creation story, three scenes from the story of Adam and Eve, and three scenes from the story of Noah and the Flood. He arranged the scenes so that the story of Noah and the Flood was the first scene visible from the entrance of the Chapel, and as the viewer moves farther into the chapel, the scenes move backward in time. The fourth fresco shows Adam and Eve being cast out of the garden; the sixth fresco shows God giving Adam life by touching his finger. The last fresco shows God in the act of dividing darkness from light.

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




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