Feb. 13, 2002

For What Binds Us

by Jane Hirshfield


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Poem: "For What Binds Us," by Jane Hirshfield from Of Gravity and Angels (Wesleyan University Press).

For What Binds Us

There are names for what binds us:
strong forces, weak forces.
Look around, you can see them:
the skin that forms in a half-empty cup,
nails rusting into the places they join,
joints dovetailed on their own weight.
The way things stay so solidly
wherever they've been set down-
and gravity, scientists say, is weak.

And see how the flesh grows back
across a wound, with a great vehemence,
more strong
than the simple, untested surface before.
There's a name for it on horses,
when it comes back darker and raised: proud flesh,

as all flesh
is proud of its wounds, wears them
as honors given out after battle,
small triumphs pinned to the chest-

And when two people have loved each other
see how it is like a
scar between their bodies,
stronger, darker, and proud;
how the black cord makes of them a single fabric
that nothing can tear or mend.

On this day in 1945, as World War II was drawing to a close, the German city of Dresden was attacked by over 800 American and British bombers. The city had no heavy industry, no strategic importance; it was simply a population center, and the attack had the purpose of destroying German morale. The city, which had been known before the war as the "Florence on the Elbe" for its beautiful architecture and works of art, was destroyed. 50,000 people died in the bombings.

It's the birthday of the painter Grant Wood, born near Anamosa, Iowa (1892). He made four trips to Europe in the 1920s, and saw the primitive paintings of the late middle ages that later influenced his work. He came back to Iowa, to Cedar Rapids, and settled down to paint. He said, "I gave up looking for the tumble-down farm houses that looked 'Europey,' and started painting the cardboardy frame houses on Iowa farms, and the details of farm women's aprons." His painting of 1930, "American Gothic," showing a farmer and his daughter outside their home, was a great sensation at the Art Institute of Chicago when it was shown there. He taught painting at the University of Iowa until his death in 1942.

It was on this day in 1692 that members of Scottish clan of Macdonald were killed in what became known as the Massacre of Glencoe.

It was on this day in 1542 that Catherine Howard, the fifth wife of Henry VIII, was beheaded in the Tower of London. She had been the maid of honor at Henry's fourth wedding, but when that marriage was annulled, she married the king herself. When Henry learned she'd had affairs before their marriage, he became incensed, and had parliament pass a law declaring it treason for an unchaste woman to marry the king. She was beheaded two days later.

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