Sep. 2, 2004

Against Whatever it is That's Encroaching

by Charles Simic

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Poem: "Against Whatever It Is That's Encroaching" by Charles Simic, from Unending Blues © Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. Reprinted with permission.

Against Whatever It Is That's Encroaching

Best of all is to be idle,
And especially on a Thursday,
And to sip wine while studying the light:
The way it ages, yellows, turns ashen
And then hesitates forever
On the threshold of the night
That could be bringing the first frost.

It's good to have a woman around just then,
And two is even better.
Let them whisper to each other
And eye you with a smirk.
Let them roll up their sleeves and unbutton their
        shirts a bit.
As this fine old twilight deserves,

And the small schoolboy
Who has come home to a room almost dark
And now watches wide-eyed
The grownups raise their glasses to him,
The giddy-headed, red-haired woman
With eyes tightly shut,
As if she were about to cry or sing.

Literary and Historical Notes:

On this day in 1945, Japan formally surrendered to the United States, marking the end of World War Two. The surrender took place in Tokyo Bay, on board the U.S.S. Missouri, the flagship of the U.S. Third Fleet. The U.S.S. Missouri is now a memorial at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.

It's the birthday of Austrian novelist and journalist Joseph Roth, born in Brody, Ukraine (1894). He worked for many years as a journalist in Berlin, and his most famous novel is Radetsky March (1932), about the last days of the Austro-Hungarian Hapsburg monarchy.

On this day in 1944, Anne Frank and her family were placed on the last transport train from Westerbork to Auschwitz. The trip took three days. The two Dutch women who cared for them during their years of hiding found Anne's diary and kept it safe. After a month at Auschwitz, Anne and her sister Margot were sent to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp where they died about six months later of typhus, shortly before the liberation of the camps. Otto, Anne's father, was the only family member to survive. He was given Anne's diary and edited it for publication under the title The Diary of Anne Frank (1947).

It's the birthday of Christa McAuliffe (1948), born in Framingham, Massachusetts. In 1986 she was to be the first civilian in space She was a Social Studies teacher at Concord High School in Concord, New Hampshire. Her students considered her an "inspirational human being, a marvelous teacher who made their lessons come alive." McAuliffe filled out an eleven page Teacher in Space application and was chosen out of 11,500 applicants.

While aboard the shuttle, Christa was to have taught two lessons from space-one about the crew members and their roles, and the other about how the shuttle flew and the space program itself. She also planned to keep a journal similar the journals of pioneer women who inspired her. She said "That's our new frontier out there, and it's everybody's business to know about space."

Just 73 seconds after lift-off, the space shuttle Challenger exploded.

Grace Corrigan, Christa's mother, said in her book A Journal For Christa, "Christa lived. She never just sat back and existed ... She extended her own limitations. She cared about her fellow human beings. She did the ordinary, but she did it well and unfailingly."

On this day in 1901, at the Minnesota State Fair, Theodore Roosevelt spoke the words that helped to define his presidency: "Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far."

It's the birthday of Eugene Field (1850), born in St. Louis, Missouri. He wrote dozens of children's poems including "Wynken, Blynken, and Nod one night / Sailed off in a wooden shoe —"

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