Aug. 18, 2009

This Longing

by Martin Steingesser

                      ... awoke to rain
around 2:30 this morning
thinking of you, because I'd said
only a few days before, this

is what I wanted, to lie with you in the dark
listening how rain sounds
in the tree beside my window,
on the sill, against the glass, damp

cool air on my face. I am loving
fresh smells, light flashes in the
black window, love how you are here
when you're not, knowing we will

lie close, nothing between us; and maybe
it will be still, as now, the longing
that carries us
into each other's arms

asleep, neither speaking
least it all too soon turn to morning, which
it does. Rain softens, low thunder, a car
sloshes past.

"This Longing" by Martin Steingesser, from Brothers of Morning. © Deerbrook Edition, 2002. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

No one knows for sure when the Mongol boy Temujin was born, but he grew up be a great leader and warrior, and on this day in 1227, Genghis Khan died, leaving behind an empire that stretched from the east coast of China across to Russia and down to the Aral Sea. The empire continued to grow after his death, and by 1280, it covered 12 million square miles, about two-thirds of the "known world" at the time. The Mongol Empire was the largest connected empire in history — only the British Empire exceeded it.

He was an unusual conqueror. On one hand, he was brutal. He led his soldiers — all on horseback — to massacre countless innocent people as a warning to his new subjects. But once he had established control, he left people with a surprising amount of freedom — he made sure they had access to food; he established governments, often with local officials; he allowed women to speak in public and express opinions; and he allowed religious freedom, never trying to convert people. And although he himself was illiterate, he helped establish the first written Mongolian language.

It's the birthday of the first child born of English parents in what is now America: Virginia Dare, born on this day in 1587. She was born on Roanoke Island, off the coast of North Carolina, just a few days after settlers from England had arrived to establish the Roanoke Colony, the first English colony in the New World. An earlier group of men had set out for Roanoke, but their colony had failed. This expedition sent more than 100 men, women, and children to the New World. But the group before them had damaged relationships with the nearby Native Americans, and only one tribe, the Croatoans, who lived on a neighboring island, were friendly with them.

Virginia's grandfather, John White, was the governor of the colony. Less than a month after her birth, White went back to England to get more supplies. He agreed on a specific code with the rest of the colonists: If they had to move from Roanoke Island, they would carve their new location into a tree or post. And if they were moved by force, they would carve a Maltese cross as a distress signal.

But things went badly in England — the country was at war with Spain, and every single English ship was in use against the Spanish Armada. Then it took a long time for White to get enough support, and his benefactor handed over the project to someone else. So it was three years later that he finally returned.

He got to Roanoke Island on this same day in 1590, which would have been his granddaughter's third birthday. The colonists had vanished. But the word "Croatoan" was carved into a post, and "Cro" into a tree. Neither had crosses or other distress signals. White speculated that they had gone to the island where the Croatoans lived, which they all referred to as Croatoan Island. But there was bad weather, and the men leading his ship refused to go search. They were blown to the Azores Islands, and from there set sail for England, and neither John White nor anyone else ever discovered what happened to little Virginia Dare and the rest of the colonists — they never reappeared. To this day, Roanoke Colony is referred to as "The Lost Colony."

It's the birthday of science fiction writer Brian Aldiss, (books by this author) born on this day in East Dereham, England (1925). His books include The Primal Urge (1961), Earthworks (1965), and most recently, HARM (2007).

He said, "Science fiction is no more written for scientists that ghost stories are written for ghosts."

It was on this day in 1920 that the 19th Amendment was ratified, giving women the right to vote. Seventy-two years earlier, at the Seneca Falls Convention, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott had called for the rights of women, and begun the cause of women's suffrage.

Charlotte Woodward was the only one of the women who signed the Declaration who was still alive to see this day in 1920 when the 19th Amendment was ratified. She was 91 years old. But she herself never got to vote—she was sick on election day in 1920, and by the next spring confined to her house, and probably died soon after.

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