Mar. 15, 2006

Modern Love

by Jan Beatty

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Poem: "Modern Love" by Jan Beatty from Boneshaker. © University of Pittsburgh Press. Reprinted with permission.

Modern Love

Early evening, five minutes before
you're due home, I slam the dishes
in the dishwasher, squeeze rivers
of 409 onto the kitchen floor and
counters, smear it white with too many
paper towels, check the clock, listen
for the doorbell of your arriving—
Love, this is not my dreamscape
my answer to romance's longing—but Love,
still I grab old food from the refrigerator and sail it into the trash, call for
take-out with the breathy voice of
a woman in want—burritos again,
with enough jalapeño to make our eyes
water; Strange new world this shape
of our love: the details of our lives
stacked in piles of tabloids, month-
old pretzels in their lonely bag, and yes,
the paint peeling off the porch since spring,
no time now to wash the clothes. I do
the only thing a woman in love can:
clear papers off the bed with a wide sweep,
slide in the video, pour the soft drinks,
so we can eat in our element, our little city;
so we can tear open time to find the heart,
heart enough for us to fill our bellies and
fill our bodies with each other until
we surface to ourselves again, until we're
the only ones here tonight, and the look
in your eyes looking at me is the beautiful
sight, and my only complaints are two:
that I didn't make myself ready
for you sooner in life, that
I can't give better,
Love you more.

Literary and Historical Notes:

Today is the "Ides of March." In the Roman Calendar, each month had three division days: kalends, nones and ides. For months that had thirty-one days, the ides occurred on the fifteenth of the month.

Julius Caesar was assassinated on the ides of March in 44 B.C. A group of Roman senators led by Cassius and Brutus thought Caesar was becoming arrogant and tyrannical, and they devised a plot to assassinate him at a senate meeting on March 15. Many of the conspirators were close friends of Caesar, including Brutus. At the meeting, the group of senators circled around Caesar and pretended to submit a petition. Suddenly, one of them grabbed Caesar's robe and yanked it off his neck, which was the signal to begin the attack. All of the conspirators were hiding daggers, and they each stabbed him as he staggered across the floor.

It's the birthday of novelist and short-story writer Ben Okri, born in Minna, Nigeria (1959). He lived mainly in England until he was seven years old when his family moved back to Nigeria. He grew up surrounded by storytellers; he said, "We are a people who are massaged by fictions; we grow up in a sea of narratives and myths, the perpetual invention of stories. ... Your mother would tell you stories to illustrate a hundred different points, lessons, morals she wanted to get across to you. Or you'd tell stories to one another as a way of making the moonlight more intoxicating, more beautiful."

Okri moved to London in 1977, living for a time in subway stations and with friends. He published more novels and short stories, but he didn't really get much attention until his novel The Famished Road came out in 1991. It's about a Nigerian child who hovers between the real world and the world of spirits, and it describes the horrible poverty and oppression in modern Nigeria. The Famished Road won the Booker Prize for Britain's best novel in 1991.

Okri said, "Literature doesn't have a country. Shakespeare is an African writer. ... The characters of Turgenev are ghetto dwellers. Dickens' characters are Nigerians. ... Literature may come from a specific place, but it always lives in its own unique kingdom."

It's the birthday of biographer Richard Ellmann, born in Detroit, Michigan (1918). He's best known for his biographies of James Joyce and Oscar Wilde. He was also the first American to teach English literature at Oxford University.

It's the birthday of Andrew Jackson, born in the Waxhaw settlement on the border of North Carolina and South Carolina (1767). He began his political career as a Tennessee congressman, but he wasn't nationally known until the War of 1812. After he led the defeat of the pro-British Creek Indians at Horseshoe Bend, he was placed in command of the defense of New Orleans, which was expecting an invasion by the British Army. The city was racked with malaria and dysentery, and Jackson fell sick soon after he arrived. When the British invaded on January 8, 1815, he was barely able to stand up without assistance.

Still, he led the American troops to a decisive victory. He had his soldiers dig fortifications on short notice so they could fire on the British without being hit themselves. Over two thousand British soldiers were killed, compared to just eight Americans. As it happened, the Treaty of Ghent had been signed two weeks before that, and the British had already agreed to stop fighting, but news of the treaty had not reached New Orleans. Jackson became a national hero and he helped to establish America as a legitimate international power. He was elected president in 1828.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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