Aug. 27, 2005


by Wesley McNair

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Poem: "Sleep" by Wesley McNair, from Fire. © David R. Godine. Reprinted with permission.


The young dog would like to know
why we sit so long in one place
intent on a box that makes the same
noises and has no smell whatever.
Get out! Get out! we tell him
when he asks us by licking the back
of our hand, which has small hairs,
almost like his. Other times he finds us
motionless with papers in our lap,
or at a desk looking into a humming
square of light. Soon the dog understands
we are not looking, exactly, but sleeping
with our eyes open, then goes to sleep
himself. Is it us he cries out to,
moving his legs somewhere beyond
the rooms where we spend our lives?
We don't think to ask, upset
as we are in the end with the dog,
who has begun throwing the old,
shabby coat of himself down on every
floor or rug in the apartment, sleep,
we say, all that damn dog does is sleep.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, born in Stuuttgart (1770). He started out as a theologian, particularly interested in how Christianity is a religion based on opposites: sin and salvation, earth and heaven, finite and infinite. He believed that Jesus had emphasized love as the chief virtue because love can bring about the marriage of opposites.

Hegel eventually went beyond theology and began to argue that the subject of philosophy is reality, and he hoped to describe how and why human beings create communities and governments, make war, destroy each other's societies, and then build themselves up to do it all over again.

He came up with the concept of Dialectic, the idea that all human progress is driven by the conflict between opposites, that each political movement is imperfect and so gives rise to a counter movement which takes control—which is also imperfect—and gives rise to yet another counter movement, and so on to infinity.

It's the birthday of the novelist Theodore Dreiser, born in Terre Haute, Indiana (1871). He arrived in Chicago as a youth, and became a newspaper reporter. As a reporter, he wrote his first novel, his great masterpiece, in just a year. Sister Carrie, was about a chorus girl who becomes a success, and it came out in 1900.

It's the birthday of Mother Theresa, born in the city of Skopje, Macedonia (1910), from a family of ethnic Albanians. Her father was murdered when she was seven. The family fell into poverty. She was educated by Irish missionary nuns and went to Dublin to train for missionary work. She was sent to Calcutta where she founded the Order of the Missionaries of Charity, devoted to anyone "unwanted, unloved, and uncared for."

Mother Theresa became famous and when journalists came to talk to her, she wouldn't give them an interview unless they spent a day working among the poor. When the pope gave her a white Lincoln Continental limousine, she sold it without ever taking a ride in it. And when she won the Nobel Peace Prize, she asked the committee to skip the awards dinner and give the cost of the dinner, (about $7,000) to the poor.

It's the birthday of the novelist C.S. Forester, born in Cairo (1899), to British parents. He created the character Horatio Hornblower, an English naval hero who is heroic but also introverted, suffers from sea-sickness, is a fanatic about efficiency and discipline, and hates the poetry of Wordsworth.

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