Mar. 4, 2006

After the Test Said Yes

by Kelly Madigan Erlandson

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Poem: "After the Test Said Yes" by Kelly Madigan Erlandson from Born in the House of Love. © Main-Traveled Roads. Originally published in Barrow Street. Reprinted with permission.

After the Test Said Yes

Stopped at the crossroad on 14th street, ice clean
as an apple slice under my wheels, I am waiting
for my turn and I don't know yet about looking back
which is why I cannot describe the color or make of what hit me,
moving too fast to brake on the black, and my blue Volkswagen
shoots out into oncoming lanes and once there begins to spin—
and that is where time slows, like they always say,
forming an opening in the day that was already thick with news.

The man comes to the car window,
wants to know if I'm okay, and I tell him I'm pregnant,
that I just found out this morning, and he looks like he will faint,
and I open the door and step out into the street,

and this, I believe, is the story of conception; how my daughter
used momentum and ice and velocity and impact
to pierce the atmosphere and enter the world.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1789 that the U.S. Constitution went into effect, and so it was that this day was chosen as the original Inauguration Day. Just about every president from Washington to Roosevelt was inaugurated on this day, except for Zachary Taylor and Rutherford B. Hayes, who were both inaugurated on March 5th, due to the 4th falling on a Sunday. Also, Washington's very first inauguration was delayed until April 30th.

The constitution only requires that the newly elected president swear a thirty-five-word vow to uphold the Constitution. It was George Washington who started the custom of giving an inaugural address. He also gave the shortest inaugural address in history at his second inauguration on this day in 1793. It was only 135 words long.

John Adams didn't much enjoy becoming the second inaugurated president. None of his family showed up for the event, he was suffering from money troubles, and he was terrified that he'd never be able to fill George Washington's shoes.

Among the most notorious inaugurations was President Andrew Jackson's in 1829. He invited the American public to the White House, and more than 20,000 drunken partygoers showed up. The crowds became so boisterous that they ruined many of the White House furnishings, and Jackson had to escape through a window. White House aides eventually lured people from the building by placing vats of whiskey on the front lawn.

On this day in 1841 William Henry Harrison stood outside in an ice storm and delivered the longest inaugural address in American history. It was 8,445 words long, and it took Harrison two hours to deliver it. He died a month later from pneumonia.

In his second inaugural, with John Wilkes Booth in the audience, Lincoln said, "With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."

Franklin Roosevelt was the last president to be inaugurated on this day in 1933. That year, the constitution was amended to move the inauguration up to January to reduce the lag time between presidencies.

On this day in 1952, Ernest Hemingway wrote a letter to his publisher, telling him that he'd finished his latest novel, The Old Man and the Sea. Hemingway's previous novel, Across the River and Into the Trees, had gotten horrible reviews, and people were starting to think he was washed up. He was working on a huge novel that he called The Sea Book, and The Old Man and the Sea was originally written as an epilogue to the novel, but he thought it was good enough to publish by itself.

It came out in a single edition of Life magazine, which sold over five million copies. It was also published as a book, which stayed at the top of the best-seller list for six months. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1953, and it was a big reason that Hemingway won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954.

It's the birthday of crime novelist James Ellroy, born in Los Angeles, California (1948). Ellroy is perhaps best known for his "LA Quartet," a series of four novels that attempt to depict the criminal history of Los Angeles from the 1940s through the 1950s. He's also the author of My Dark Places (1996), a memoir about the murder of his mother.

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