Jul. 18, 2005

Having Children

by Barbara Tanner Angell

MONDAY, 18 JULY, 2005
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Poem: "Having Children" by Barbara Tanner Angell, from The Long Turn Toward Light. © Cleveland State University Poetry Center. Reprinted with permission.

Having Children

A siren goes by,
the scream cuts through me
even though my child is home.
For a moment I think...

Where am I?
In the middle of the night
a cry, dreamed
or heard, a wave washes
over the body of my child.
I have let her drown

or fall. She has fallen
from a high balcony
and I have let it happen.
Negligence. I feel
as if I'm plummeting...

Oh let this be a dream.
I'll be better next time.
I'll watch, I'll watch, I'll watch.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the novelist William Makepeace Thackeray, born in Calcutta (1811). His father worked for the British East India Company. William Makepeace Thackeray said, "There are a thousand thoughts lying within a man that he does not know until he takes up a pen to write." He's best known for his novel Vanity Fair, the story of Becky Sharp, who fights her way up through society by any means necessary. Her character delivers the novel's most famous line when she says, "I think I could be a good woman if I had five thousand a year."

It's the birthday of Jessamyn West, born in North Vernon, Indiana, author of The Friendly Persuasion.

It's the birthday of the playwright Clifford Odets, Philadelphia, known for his plays Waiting for Lefty and Golden Boy.

It's the birthday of Nelson Mandela, born in Cape of Good Hope, South Africa (1918). His father was the chief of the Tembu tribe.

It was on this day in 1925, the first edition of Mein Kampf, by Adolf Hitler, was published.

And today, the 18th of July, is believed to be the anniversary of the fire that burned Rome in 64 AD, while the emperor Nero supposedly played his fiddle. In fact, he wasn't in Rome. He was away at his holiday villa on the coast, and when he heard about the fire, he rushed back to the capital and took charge of the operations.

The rumors about his playing his fiddle probably came from people in the Roman military who did not approve of Nero's artistic leanings. He'd come to power at the age of 16. He was the youngest ruler in the history of Rome. He was more interested in music and poetry than in battling the barbarians. And he didn't play the fiddle; he did play the lyre. But his real passion was singing. He was also known to be a transvestite, which did not endear him to the soldiers.

One of the rumors being spread at the time was that Nero had himself started the fire because he was disgusted by the architecture in Rome and wanted to rebuild the city. And to bolster his own image against these rumors, Nero decided that the fire needed to be blamed on someone else, and he picked out the Christians who were generally loathed by Romans.

The religion of Christianity was only a few decades old when Nero singled it out. Nero rounded up Christians; they were covered in the skins of wild animals, torn to death by dogs, crucified, or they were burned at the stake.

Most Romans at the time despised Christians, but Nero's program of persecution went further than the people wanted. It had the unintended effect of making people sympathize with Christians. And a little more than 200 years later, the emperor of the Roman Empire himself converted to Christianity, and it became the dominant religion of Europe.

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