Sep. 22, 2004

More Shrines

by David Kirby

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Poem: "MORE SHRINES" by David Kirby, from I Think I Am Going to Call My Wife Paraguay Orchises Press, Virginia, 2004. Reprinted with permission.



No, I don't think we would
be orthodox believers
had Charles Martel not turned back
the Moslems at Tours in 732,
thus allowing the West to grow up
Christian, Jewish, and,
for the most part, slightly perplexed
about but mainly oblivious to
such matters as good, evil,
and whether or not we will go
to Paradise when we die.
But even though my hometown
of Tallahassee contains the name
of Allah, and even though
we have Arabic words in our language,
such as algebra, which sounds
Arabic and even looks that way,
or did in the eighth grade,
still, this is America,
and while I cannot see us adopting
the placid temperaments of
the desert people, so self-composed
in their long, loose robes
yet struggling continuously with
the malicious djinn who rule
the kingdom of death that begins
just a few feet from the oasis,
we need, do we not,
more places in this country
that are solemn and serene,
although there can be only one holy stone
set in the corner of the Ka'aba
in Mecca, white when given
to Adam at the time of the fall
but black now from the sins of
those who have kissed it.
I like this: a kind of sin-magnet
that would pull all of
the wickedness out of us,
because, as it says in the Koran,
you can run, pretty momma,
but you can't hide.

Literary and Historical Notes:

On this day in 1776, patriot Nathan Hale was executed for espionage. At 11:00 a.m. he stood on the gallows and uttered the most famous last words in American history: "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country."

It was on this day in 1862, five days after Union forces won the Battle of Antietam, that President Lincoln read to his cabinet and issued his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation declaring slaves in rebel states free as of January 1, 1863. Lincoln took this action as commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States. He called it a fit and necessary war measure.

The Proclamation began, "...on the 1st day of January, A.D. 1863, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the executive government of the United States...will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom."

The states in rebellion did not act on Lincoln's order. Though the Emancipation Proclamation did not end slavery, it did show Americans and the world that a basic goal of the Civil War was the freedom of those living as slaves. By the end of the war, more than 500,000 slaves had fled to freedom behind Northern lines. Nearly 200,000 black soldiers and sailors, many of them former slaves, served in the armed forces. They helped the North win the war.

Abraham Lincoln said, "If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong."

It's the birthday of novelist and playwright Fay Weldon, born Franklin Birkinshaw in Worcestershire, England (1931). Her mother called her Franklin Birkinshaw because, according to numerology, it matched the name "William Shakespeare." Her father was a doctor and her mother wrote commercial fiction under the pen name "Pearl Bellairs."

After her parents divorced when she was five, Weldon lived with her mother, sister and grandmother until she left home for college. She grew up believing females peopled the world. She is known for writing about the lives of women, most trapped by domestic duties; abusive, adulterous or neglectful husbands; or the demands of small children.

Weldon is the author of over three dozen books, which include The Fat Woman's Joke (1967), The Life and Loves of a She-Devil (1983), and Godless in Eden (1999) -- a collection of essays on contemporary politics and culture. Her autobiography, Auto da Fay, was published in 2002. It follows Weldon from her struggles as a poor unwed mother (in the 1950s, she lived in a house without heat, water or an indoor bathroom) through several unusual relationships into a job as an advertising copywriter.

Her autobiography begins, "I long for a day of judgment when the plot lines of our lives will be neatly tied, and all puzzles explained, and the meaning of events made clear. We take to fiction, I suppose, because no such thing is going to happen, and at least on the printed page we can observe beginnings, middles, and ends..."

Her most recent novel is Mantrapped, due out this year (2004). It is the story of Peter and Trisha, a man and woman who bump into each other in a laundromat and instantly switch souls.

Fay Weldon said, "If I am a prolific writer and turn my hand, with what seems to some as indecent haste, from novels to screenplays to stage and radio plays, it is because there is so much to be said, so few of us to say it, and time runs out."

She said, "I see myself as someone who drops tiny crumbs of nourishment, in the form of comment and conversation, into the black enormous maw of the world's discontent. I will never fill it up or shut it up; but it seems my duty, not to mention my pleasure, to attempt to do so, however ineptly. See me as Sisyphus, but having a good time."

It's the birthday of director, screenwriter, and actor Erich von Stroheim, born in Vienna, Austria (1885). Erich Von Stroheim emigrated to America in 1909. When the German steamer Price Friedrich Wilhelm arrived in New York harbor November 25, he was Erich Oswald Stroheim, son of a Jewish hat dealer and manufacturer. When he arrived at Immigration, however, he was Erich Oswald Hans Carl Maria von Stroheim, son of a German Baroness and Austrian Count, a decorated graduate of a German military Academy.

Stroheim's passion was directing. He was a perfectionist with a passion for detail and risqué material. He liked to produce extremely lengthy, expensive pictures. He is remembered for his filming and cutting of Greed (1924), which originally ran over 9 hours before it was edited down to 140 minutes. When asked him it would be possible to show a thirty-two-reel picture in one evening, he replied: "That is a detail I hadn't time to bother about."

The movie Greed begins with the line: "Gold, gold, gold, gold, / Bright and yellow, hard and old, / Molten, graven, hammered, rolled, / Hard to get and light to hold, / Stolen, borrowed, squandered, doled..." With its relentless view of the effect of greed on human nature, Greed was too depressing for audiences of 1925. It was a box-office failure.

Stroheim's downfall as a director came with 1929's Queen Kelly, a film that was way over budget and never completed nor released in the United States. The rest of his career was spent writing two novels, touring in a production of Arsenic and Old Lace, and appearing in small roles in Europe and the U.S. His 1950 performance as Max von Mayerling in Sunset Boulevard earned him his only Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Erich von Stroheim died May 12, 1957 in Maurepas, France.

It's the birthday of poet Babette Deutsch, born in 1895 in New York City. Her poems are memorable for their wide range of tone and subject matter. Her best-known collections include Animal, Vegetable, Mineral (1954), Coming of Age (1959), and Collected Poems (1963 and 1969). She also wrote novels, including Mask of Silenus (1933), and numerous critical works, such as Poetry in Our Time (1954).

Babette Deutsch said, "The poet, like the lover, is a person unable to reconcile what he knows with what he feels. His peculiarity is that he is under a certain compulsion to do so."

She also said, ""Poetry is the fiery index to the genius of the age."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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