May 2, 2003

First Practice

by Gary Gildner

FRIDAY, 2 MAY 2003
(RealAudio) | How to listen

"First Practice," by Gary Gildner from First Practice (University of Pittsburgh Press).

First Practice

After the doctor checked to see
we weren't ruptured,
the man with the short cigar took us
under the grade school,
where we went in case of attack
or storm, and said
he was Clifford Hill, he was
a man who believed dogs
ate dogs, he had once killed
for his country, and if
there were any girls present
for them to leave now.
                        No one
left. OK, he said, he said I take
that to mean you are hungry
men who hate to lose as much
as I do. OK. Then
he made two lines of us
facing each other,
and across the way, he said,
is the man you hate most
in the world,
and if we are to win
that title I want to see how.
But I don't want to see
any marks when you're dressed,
he said. He said, Now.

Literary Notes:

It's the birthday of one of the most famous monarchs in history, Russian Empress Catherine the Great, born Sophie Auguste Friederike in the Prussian province of Pomerania, now part of Poland (1729). When she was fifteen she was married to the 16-year-old Grand Duke Peter, heir to the Russian throne. He was a sickly youth who played with toy soldiers, and Catherine was bored and miserable. She had many affairs, and she later hinted that her husband hadn't fathered any of her three children. Peter became Czar in 1761 when his aunt Elizabeth died, and he immediately began to offend the Russian people by refusing to mourn the dead empress, whom he had hated. The country began to sink into chaos, and at the end of June 1762, Catherine conspired with the army to have her husband arrested, and he died in a scuffle with his guards. In order to show that she now led their country, Catherine borrowed an old green army uniform, and rode out to meet her soldiers on a white horse. They wept and cheered at the sight of her. As the ruler of Russia, she encouraged the humanities, helping to promote book publishing, journalism, architecture, and the theater. She sponsored the first school for girls in Russia and established a system of elementary schools, all of which led to Russia becoming one of the most important cultural centers in Europe.

It's the birthday of English author and dramatist Jerome K. Jerome, born in Walsall, England (1859). He wrote many books, including The Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow (1886), but he is best known for his humorous play Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) (1889).

It's the birthday of Hungarian journalist Theodor Herzl, born in Budapest, Hungary (1860). He was the founder of modern political Zionism, which gave birth to the nation of Israel. In 1894, as a Paris correspondent for a Vienna newspaper, he covered the treason trial of Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish officer in the French army. The display of anti-Semitism he witnessed at the trial convinced him that Jews had to leave Europe and start their own country. He helped found the World Zionist Organization, but he died after the Zionist Congress rejected a British offer of land for Jewish settlement in East Africa. His body was eventually taken to Israel, where Mount Herzl near Jerusalem was established as a tribute to his memory.

It's the birthday of Dr. Benjamin Spock, born in New Haven, Connecticut (1903). His Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care (1946) was a bestseller during the period after World War II, when parents across America were raising the baby-boom generation. In 1943, having observed children and their health for ten years, Spock decided to write a book about taking care of them. Previous parenting guidebooks had encouraged parents to be stern with their children, and they were written as a list of commends. Dr. Spock not only encouraged parents to be affectionate, he also encouraged them to follow their own instincts. The first sentence of his book was, "You know more than you think you do."

It's the birthday of lyricist Lorenz Hart, born in New York City (1895). He wrote the lyrics to songs like "Blue Moon," (1934) "My Funny Valentine," (1937) and "The Lady Is a Tramp" (1937). Hart wrote verse in his spare time and was drifting around in his twenties when someone introduced him to Richard Rodgers, a teenage composer who wanted a lyricist. Their show The Garrick Gaieties (1925) became a huge success. Hart and Rodgers fought all the time. Hart often accused Rodgers of encouraging the orchestra to drown out his lyrics. Rodgers replied, "Do you want the audience to go out whistling the lyrics?" Hart didn't like working hard, keeping appointments, or meeting deadlines, and Rodgers called him "a partner, a best friend -- and a source of permanent irritation."

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