Mar. 20, 2003

There Comes the Strangest Moment

by Kate Light

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Poem: "There Comes the Strangest Moment," by Kate Light from Open Slowly (Zoo Press).

There Comes the Strangest Moment

There comes the strangest moment in your life,
when everything you thought before breaks free--
what you relied upon, as ground-rule and as rite
looks upside down from how it used to be.

Skin's gone pale, your brain is shedding cells;
you question every tenet you set down;
obedient thoughts have turned to infidels
and every verb desires to be a noun.

I want--my want. I love--my love. I'll stay
with you. I thought transitions were the best,
but I want what's here to never go away.
I'll make my peace, my bed, and kiss this breast…

Your heart's in retrograde. You simply have no choice.
Things people told you turn out to be true.
You have to hold that body, hear that voice.
You'd have sworn no one knew you more than you.

How many people thought you'd never change?
But here you have. It's beautiful. It's strange.

Literary Notes:

In the Northern Hemisphere, it's the first day of spring, beginning with the vernal equinox at 8:30 pm eastern standard time this year. "Equinox" means "equal night." Because the sun is positioned above the equator, day and night are about equal in length all over the world during the equinoxes. The daylight length is virtually the same everywhere today: 12 hours and 8 minutes.

It's the birthday of the Roman poet Ovid, born Publius Ovidius Naso in what is now Sulmona, Italy (43 BC). He loved the illustrious literary scene in Rome, where both Virgil and Horace were still living. Ovid gained quick fame for his love poems, the Amores (circa 20 BC). His masterpiece, The Metamorphoses (finished circa 8 AD), is an innovative and playful epic.

It's the birthday of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, born in Skien, a small lumbering town in southern Norway (1828). As a young writer, Ibsen was dissatisfied with all existing forms of drama, so he set out to create his own. Ibsen started his career in Norwegian theater companies, where he was asked to create a "national drama" out of incongruous materials, like Icelandic sagas, drawing-room drama, and Danish acting traditions. He wrote Love's Comedy (1862), a satire on romantic illusions. It was violently unpopular, but introduced a new theme of anti-idealism that Ibsen later developed. He wrote The Pretenders (1863), which could have been the "national drama" that Ibsen was working for, but it came too late. The theater went bankrupt and Ibsen's career looked to be at a dead end. But in fact the death of the Norwegian theater company freed Ibsen. He was awarded a small state grant and decided to go abroad. Ibsen's career took off after he left Norway. His homeland left a bitter taste in his mouth because of what he called its "small-mindedness." In his voluntary exile in Rome, Dresden, and Munich, he wrote his masterpieces, A Doll's House (1879), The Wild Duck (1884), and The Master-Builder (1892). A Doll's House was published and premiered in Copenhagen. It is the story of Nora Helmer, a sheltered and indulged woman who has committed forgery in order to get money for her ill husband, Torvald. When her husband finds out, his behavior makes Nora realize that in their eight years of marriage he has never looked at her as a human being, but only as a doll. The play was revolutionary in many ways. The last act contains an open-ended surprise ending that was new for the stage. Nora tells Torvald that they should sit down and "discuss all this that has been happening between us," and then walks out and slams the door behind her. The first German productions in the 1880s had an altered ending at the request of the producers. Ibsen referred to this version as a "barbaric outrage." The play provoked discussions in parlors across Europe, and the printed version of A Doll's House sold out even before it hit the stage.

On this day in 1852, Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel Uncle Tom's Cabin was published. Stowe called it an "epic of Negro bondage" in response to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. The book became a run-away bestseller, and greatly influenced public sentiment about the Civil War.

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