Jun. 12, 2005

Another End of the World

by James Richardson

SUNDAY, 12 JUNE, 2005
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Poem: "Another End of the World" by James Richardson from Interglacial: New and Selected Poems and Aphorisms © Ausable Press. Reprinted with permission.

Another End of the World

Here in the last minutes, the very end of the world,
someone's tightening a screw thinner than an eyelash,
someone with slim wrists is straightening flowers,
someone is starting a slow, cloud-like settling
into a love longer than the world,
and someone's playing chess. Chess!
Some can't believe how little time is left,
some have been counting down the seconds
in pennies, all their lives. And one has realized
this day was made for him, seeing nothing
he had to do needs to be done,
and whistles, hands in pockets. This is how the world begins.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Anne Frank, born in Frankfurt, Germany (1929). On this day in 1942, her 13th birthday, she received a diary as a birthday present. She was living with her family in Amsterdam. They'd gone there to get away from the Nazis, but the Nazis had followed. Since 1940, Anne and her family had been living under Nazi occupation, though her life was fairly ordinary when she got the diary in 1942. Her earliest journal entries are about her grades, her classmates, and the boys that she knew.

She didn't have any close friends at the time, so she treated her diary like a friend. She addressed it by the name of "Kitty" and said, "I hope I shall be able to confide in you completely, as I have never been able to do in anyone before, and I hope that you will be a great support and comfort to me." Less than one month after she wrote those words in 1942, the Nazis began deporting Jews to concentration camps, and Anne and the Frank family went into hiding in an attic above her father's offices where they lived for the next two years.

While she was in hiding, she wrote regularly in her diary, not so much about the experience of living in secret, as about the ordinary details of her life: how much she hated potatoes, how her older sister was clearly her parents' favorite, the jokes that people made in hiding, her romance with Peter, the son of the other family living in the attic and her first kiss. After that kiss, she wrote in her diary, "My head lay on his shoulder, with his on top of mine. Oh, it was so wonderful. I could hardly talk. My pleasure was too intense; he caressed my cheek and arm, a bit clumsily, and played with my hair."

In 1944, Anne Frank heard on the radio someone saying that people should hang on to their war letters and diaries. They'd be historical documents some day. And then she started to think about the diary as a literary work and thought about turning it into a novel.

Near the end of her diary, Anne Frank grew less optimistic about the future. She wrote, "I simply can't imagine the world will ever be normal again for us. I do talk about 'after the war,' but it's as if I were talking about a castle in the air, something that can never come true."

On August 4, 1944, the hiding place was raided by Nazi police. The Frank family was among the last Jews shipped out of the Netherlands to concentration camps, and Anne Frank died of typhus in the Bergen Belsen camp six weeks before it was liberated by the Allies. Her father was the only member of the family who survived. He came back to Amsterdam and found Anne's diary. He took several weeks to read it. He could only bear to read a little bit at a time. It was published in 1947, and became an immediate best-seller.

The Diary of Anne Frank has now sold more than 25 million copies. It's one of the most popular non-fiction books ever written, and became the standard book used in schools to introduce children to the story of the Holocaust.

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