Jul. 12, 2014
The Affair in the Office
It belonged to all of us in a way
because we all shared
in the surprise
that it existed at all,
and also, privately, in the thrill
of the two lovers
(none more surprised than they)
who'd worked together in the same sad office
with all of us for all
these years, and both of them married,
and both unhappily. It was
a sad office, like so many
sad offices, full of the inexorable sadness
of cubicles, and computers, and empty
of love. Or so we thought. For no one
saw it growing—it must have
gotten in through a high
bit of laughter in the lunchroom,
then a glancing away
and a looking back again, the way
it sometimes does. And when it got out
in whispers around the water cooler
we all drank from it,
we drank it in, and in this way
it refreshed us, and amazed us,
and belonged to us because
we all took it home, took it
with us in the car, or on the train, sat with it
in rush hour, shaking our heads as though
we were listening to music, and in a way
we were listening to music,
shaking our heads and smiling,
looking out the window, fingers drumming.
It's the birthday of poet Pablo Neruda (books by this author), born Neftali Ricardo Reyes Basoalto in Parral, Chile (1904). In 1923, when he was 19, he sold all his possessions in order to publish his first book, Crepusculario (Twilight). Because his father didn't approve of his writing poetry, he published it under the pen name Pablo Neruda. In 1924, he published Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada, known in English as Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair, which made him famous. Neruda always wrote in green ink, because he believed it was the color of hope.
In 1927, he began a second career as a diplomat. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1971. In his Nobel lecture he said, "All paths lead to the same goal: to convey to others what we are."
It's the birthday of Henry David Thoreau (books by this author), born David Henry Thoreau in Concord, Massachusetts (1817). He went to Harvard, but he didn't like it very much, nor did he enjoy his later job as a schoolteacher. He seemed destined for a career in his father's pencil factory, and in fact, he came up with a better way to bind graphite and clay, which saved his father money. But in 1844, Thoreau's friend Ralph Waldo Emerson bought land on the shore of Walden Pond, a 61-acre pond, surrounded by woods, and Thoreau decided to build a cabin there. It was only two miles from the village of Concord, and he had frequent visitors. During the two years he lived there, Thoreau kept a journal that he later published as Walden, or Life in the Woods (1854). In the conclusion to Walden, Thoreau wrote, "I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours."
It's the birthday of (Gaius) Julius Caesar, born in Rome around 100 B.C. He was the great military leader who managed to capture for the Roman Empire most of what became France and Great Britain.
In a series of dispatches from the battlefield, Caesar became his own war correspondent. Unlike many of the Roman poets and historians of the era, Caesar wrote short descriptive prose that was easy for ordinary people to understand. His stories of military victories turned him into a national hero, but the Roman Senate increasingly saw him as a threat. It passed legislation requiring him to lay down his military command and return to Rome.
But Caesar realized that he had the largest and most battle-tested army in the empire under his command. And if he returned to Rome, his political opponents would end his career. And so, on January 10, 49 B.C., Caesar crossed the Rubicon River with his army, directly challenging the authority of the Senate. The result was a civil war. Though he was outnumbered in many of the major battles, Caesar won the war. And he was extremely merciful with captured military leaders, because he wanted them as his allies. That might have been his biggest mistake, since it was a group of those men he spared that began to conspire against him.
He was an absolute dictator of Rome, with ambitious plans to redistribute wealth and land. But a group of senators, led by Brutus and Cassius, wanted to bring back the old republic. So they organized an assassination on the steps of the Senate.
The Roman republic never returned. Instead, Rome would be ruled by a series of emperors for the rest of the empire's existence.
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®