Oct. 28, 2003


by Davi Walders

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Poem: "Anniversary," by Davi Walders, from A More Perfect Union (St. Martin's Press).


That you and I, I and you,
this twenty-fifth year after
you stamped your foot, shattered
the glass, and friends, so many dead
or forgotten, applauded in a ballroom
long abandoned, twenty-five years
of Monday good-byes, monthly wars
with stacks of bills, bags of garbage,
frozen gutters, nights filled
with pink medicines, fevered cheeks
on shoulders, the other hand reaching
for the pediatrician's call, termites
chewing, and hours waiting
for the door to open, holding
our own daughter's head vomiting
beer into our own leaking toilet,
that now, as mirrors mark the descent
of breasts, the tub catches silvered
pubic hair and our eyes wear pouches
and hoods, as though expecting rain,
that you and I could smell the salt
of each other, coming together after
long absence, silent, still, staring up
at the darkening ceiling, naked in a house
with empty, orderly bedrooms, the last
of dead roses and discarded boyfriends
tossed out, your hand touching mine,
our breathing slowing,
the wonder of it all.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of poet John Hollander, born in New York City (1929). He originally wanted to be a humor writer, and he's known for the quirky themes he chooses for his poetry collections. His book Reflections on Espionage: The Question of Cupcake (1976) is a long poem about a master spy who transmits coded messages to other secret agents. His collection Types of Shape (1969) is a series of poems that are arranged on the page so that the words form pictures of things, like a key, a cup, or a swan reflected in water. His thirteenth collection of poems was The Power of Thirteen (1983), which is broken up into thirteen sections of thirteen poems. Each poem has thirteen lines and each line has thirteen syllables.

He wrote:

"When Adam found his rib was gone
He cursed and sighed and cried and swore
And looked with cold resentment on
The creature God has used it for."

It was on this day in 1886 that the Statue of Liberty was officially unveiled and opened to the public. A group of French intellectuals came up with the idea for the statue one night while talking about how much they admired the example of democracy and freedom in the United States, especially since the U.S. had recently abolished slavery. They talked about the long friendship between the United States and France. French philosophers and their ideas about freedom had inspired the founding fathers of the United States, and France helped the United States win the Revolutionary War against England. France was later inspired by the United States to overthrow its own monarchy. One of the men suggested that France should build a monument to liberty and give it to the U.S. as a symbol of their shared love of freedom.

Both French and Americans helped raise funds for the statue through lotteries and art exhibitions and boxing matches. The statue was assembled in France, then broken down into parts and shipped to the U.S. in 214 crates. Workers put it back together in New York. The day of the dedication was cold and rainy, but huge crowds came out for the celebration anyway. The hotels were full throughout New York City, and many of the tourists who arrived for the occasion were French. The sculptor Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi was alone in the statue's crown, waiting for the signal to drop the veil. A boy down below was supposed to wave a white handkerchief at the end of the big speech. The boy accidentally waved his handkerchief before the speech was over and Bartholdi let the curtain drop, revealing the huge bronze lady. A salvo of gunshots rang out from all the ships in the harbor. The speaker, who had been boring everybody, sat down. A cover story in Joseph Pulitzer's newspaper The World said, "[Today] New York was one big cheer."

It's the birthday of British satirist Evelyn Waugh, born in London (1903). He came from a literary family: his father was the managing editor of an important British publishing house, and his older brother was a distinguished writer. But Waugh didn't do well in school, and he left Oxford without receiving a degree. He tried working as a teacher, but he got fired from three schools in two years. He said, "I was from the first an obvious dud." He was seriously in debt, without a job, and had just been rejected by the girl he liked, so he decided to drown himself in the ocean. He wrote a suicide note and jumped in the sea, but before he got very far, he was stung by a jellyfish. He scrambled back to shore, tore up his suicide note, and decided to give life a second chance. He didn't know what else to do, so he wrote a novel about a young teacher at a private school where the other teachers are all drunks, child molesters, and escaped convicts; and the mother of one student is running an international prostitution ring. His publishers forced him to preface the book with a disclaimer that said, "Please bear in mind throughout that it is meant to be funny." The novel Decline and Fall was published in 1928, and it was immediately recognized as a masterpiece of modern satire.

He married a woman named Evelyn, and his friends called them He-Evelyn and She-Evelyn. The marriage broke up while he was writing his second novel, and he promptly joined the Catholic Church. He went on to write many more novels, and many consider A Handful of Dust (1934), about a crumbling marriage, to be his masterpiece. It ends with the main character trapped in a jungle, reading Dickens to a madman.

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