Feb. 6, 2005

My Son

by Susan Cataldo

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Poem: "My Son" by Susan Cataldo, from drenched: selected poems of Susan Cataldo 1979-1999. © Telephone Books. Reprinted with permission.

My Son

I love this messy room you live in
The plants you care for
The nickels & dimes & pennies you pile
Up on your desk like no-good money
The Amazing Spiderman poster on the wall

Tapes paint comic books biographies
Of all your favorite presidents
A picture of the Lincoln Memorial
On the wall facing your bed
An eleven year old dusty red TV

Daphne turning into a tree
Two autographed photographs of
Leonard Nimoy. Dracula.
A cross made of branches
Held together by a rubber band

You love daisies
& keep them alive until
Every bud has blossomed
You are interested in
What everyone is doing

You think of new things for them
To do you make them heroes
In your fantastic head
You look strong & handsome
But you don't see that

You want to defend helpless people
You want to know why there aren't
Really super heroes
You ask the same questions
I ask myself & can't answer

You don't understand jokes
You think they hurt
You are constantly dodging
Bullets & dreaming up new
Ways to defend yourself

You are stubborn to a fault
A fortress of mind & chest
Eyes never more mirrored
The soul than your
You deny love

You want to be "different"
You don't want to feel
How much you love this life

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the lexicographer Eric Partridge, born near Gisborne, New Zealand (1894). He is best known as the author of several dictionaries on slang.

Partridge grew up on a farm in New Zealand, and at age eleven his family moved to Australia. He earned a scholarship to attend the University of Queensland, where he studied classics, and then French and English. His studies were interrupted by the outbreak of World War I, when he served in the Australian infantry, but he returned to university when the war ended, and Partridge graduated in 1921.

Then, Partridge moved to England, where he studied at Oxford and taught at universities in Manchester and London. In 1927, Partridge gave up his academic life and started Scholartis Press. Partridge said, "I did absolutely all the work myself, even to delivering parcels." Despite his efforts, the economic depression in 1931 forced him to close his press.

It was at this time that Partridge began occupying his customary seat at the British Museum, seat K-1 in the Reading Room, which he would occupy nearly every day for the rest of his life. He spent all those hours at the British Museum studying slang, and became an expert on slang in the English language. He published several dictionaries on slang, beginning with Slang Today and Yesterday (1933). He wrote and revised dictionaries on slang well into his eighties, and published his final book A Dictionary of Catch Phrases in 1977.

Of his addiction to the English language, Eric Partridge said he was "cheerfully and incorrigibly serving a life sentence."

Eric Partridge said, "Language cannot be thrust into a vacuum and examined as though it were something existing apart from the people who devised it and the people who use it. To ignore the human origin, the human dependence, the human nexus, is fatal."

It's the birthday of the 40th president of the United States, Ronald Reagan, born in Tampico, Illinois (1911).

Reagan became a radio announcer for the Chicago Cubs after graduating from college. He was given only the bare bones of the game from a ticker, and relied on his natural gifts of storytelling and imagination to make the games lively and interesting. His abilities were put to the test when, in 1934, the ticker went dead in the ninth inning of a game between Chicago and St. Louis. Reagan improvised with a fictional broadcast until the ticker came back on line.

Reagan joined the Army as a reserve cavalry officer in 1935, and was activated after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Due to his poor eyesight, Reagan was assigned to the First Motion Picture Unit in the Army Air Force, which made training and education films. Reagan stayed in Hollywood throughout the war, becoming a captain, although he tried many times to go overseas for combat duty.

Also during this time, Reagan became a successful screen actor. The agent who signed Reagan to his first contract said, "I have another Robert Taylor sitting in my office." In 1940, Reagan gave the performance for which he would be best remembered as an actor, when he played George "The Gipper" Gipp in Knute Rockne, All American. The movie confirmed Reagan's status as an American icon, and earned him the nickname "Gipper."

Ronald Reagan actually began his political career as a Democrat, and he voted for Franklin Delano Roosevelt the first time he voted for president. He gradually became more conservative, and he supported the campaigns of Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon while he was still a registered Democrat. Reagan believed that Republicans were better suited to fight Communism, and this is a major reason why he left the Democrats. As president of the Screen Actors Guild, Reagan testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee on Communist influence in Hollywood. He also reported any actors he considered suspicious to the FBI, and was given the code name "Agent T-10." He delivered a passionate speech in support of Barry Goldwater's presidential campaign that is now called simply "The Speech" by some people. Because of this speech, Reagan was asked to run for governor of California, and after considering it for several sleepless nights, Reagan decided to run, and he won two terms as California governor.

Reagan tried twice for the Republican presidential nomination before winning it, and then the presidency in 1980. He ran on a platform of low taxes and strong national defense, which he called "Peace Through Strength." Also, Reagan openly supported anti-communist rebels in other countries, and so he funded and armed the "freedom fighters" of Afghanistan, calling them "an inspiration to those who love freedom," as well as the Contras in Nicaragua, who he called "the moral equivalent to our founding fathers." Reagan also intervened in the long war between Iraq and Iran, throwing support to now-deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein because he feared an Iranian victory would embolden extremist groups in that region. Reagan cut off Iran's access to weapons, and supplied intelligence and weapons to the Iraqi military.

Ronald Reagan said, "The most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the government and I'm here to help." And he said, "I happen to believe government is not the solution to our problems—government is the problem."

It's the birthday of our third vice-president, Aaron Burr, born in Newark, New Jersey (1756). He is best known as the man who challenged Alexander Hamilton to a duel, and then mortally wounded him.

Burr was a law student when the American Revolution began, and he suspended his education to take up arms with the colonists. One time, Burr disguised himself as a Roman Catholic priest and traveled across British lines into Montreal, to carry news to a general. As a result, Burr became very well known throughout the military, and though he never entirely earned the trust of George Washington, Israel Putnam made Burr his charge. Putnam's trust was rewarded when Burr saved an entire brigade from capture at Long Island.

Burr left the military when he became ill, and in 1782 Burr was admitted to the bar, and became a passionate lawyer and politician. He became vice president when he and Thomas Jefferson tied in the electoral college and the election went to the House of Representatives, where he was nearly elected America's third president. After three days and thirty-six ballots, Jefferson was narrowly elected president, and Burr became vice president, partly because his political rival Alexander Hamilton opposed him so strongly.

In 1804, Burr ran for governor of New York, but was defeated, due in part to the influence of Alexander Hamilton. Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel, and in that duel he shot Hamilton just below the chest. Hamilton died of the injury the next day.

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




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