Mar. 6, 2006

Mr. Glusenkamp

by Ronald Wallace

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Poem: "Mr. Glusenkamp" by Ron Wallace from Teachers: A Primer. © Ronald Wallace. Reprinted with permission.

Mr. Glusenkamp

His gray face was a trapezoid, his voice
droned on like an ellipse.
He hated students and their noise
and loved the full eclipse
of their faces at the end of the day.
No one could have been squarer,
and nothing could have been plainer
than his geometry.

He didn't go for newfangled
stuff—new math, the open classroom.
And yet he taught us angles
and how lines intersect and bloom,
and how infinity was no escape,
and how to give abstractions shape.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1951 that the trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg began. They were a middle-aged, married Jewish couple charged with conspiracy to commit espionage, and it was strongly suggested by the government that they were personally responsible for helping Communist Russia acquire the atomic bomb.

In recent years, KGB files have showed that Julius Rosenberg was indeed the leader of a Communist spy ring, and that he persuaded his brother-in-law to steal secrets from Los Alamos National Laboratory having to do with nuclear weapons. But those secrets were relatively minor and had little effect on the Russians' acquiring nuclear weapons.

The FBI had hoped that Julius Rosenberg would name names of the other communists he worked with, but he refused. So the FBI arrested his wife, Ethel, in hopes of forcing Julius to talk, even though there was no evidence to suggest that she had any direct role in the spy ring. The judge set the bail for Ethel Rosenberg at $100,000, even though the only charges at the time were that she'd associated with her husband.

The main evidence in the trial came from Ethel's younger brother David Greenglass, who had worked at the Los Alamos laboratory as a mechanical engineer. He testified that Julius Rosenberg had asked him to smuggle sketches of nuclear machinery out of the laboratory to be handed over to the Russians. David also testified that Ethel typed up the documents he provided, but he later said that this was a lie.

The trial was over in less than a month, and both Ethel and Julius were found guilty. But everyone was shocked, even J. Edgar Hoover, when the judge sentenced both Ethel and Julius Rosenberg to death by the electric chair. The government offered to spare Ethel's life if Julius would make a last-minute deal to name names, but he refused to do so, and so they were both executed, one after the other in the electric chair at Sing Sing in 1953.

For years, many leftist groups assumed the Rosenbergs had been framed by the government since they had asserted their innocence until the end. But it turns out that they weren't framed. They were just unwilling to cooperate.

It's the birthday of novelist Gabriel García Márquez, born in Aracataca, Columbia (1928). He's the oldest of eleven children, and he lived with his grandparents for the first eight years of his life. He said, "I grew up in a village hidden away among marshes and virgin forest on the Colombian north coast ... a place where the sea passes through every imaginable shade of blue." As a child, he loved listening to his grandfather's stories about the recent civil war and his grandmother's stories about ghosts, omens, premonitions, and dead ancestors.

He was working as a journalist when he took a trip back to his hometown to help his mother sell his grandparents' house. Over the course of that trip he was flooded with memories of his childhood and the stories told to him by his grandparents. A fictional town began to take shape in his mind, based on his memories, and he knew he had to write a novel about that town. He wrote five novels in the next fifteen years, but he wasn't satisfied with any of them.

In January of 1965, Márquez began to write about that town in his novel One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967). He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982 and has gone on to write many more books, including Love in the Time of Cholera (1988) and The General in His Labyrinth (1989). His novel Memories of My Melancholy Whores came out in 2005.

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