Apr. 1, 2006

Flying Lesson

by Julia Kasdorf

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Poem: "Flying Lesson" by Julia Kasdorf from Eve's Striptease. © University of Pittsburg Press. Reprinted with permission.

Flying Lesson

Over a tray of spent plates, I confessed
to the college president my plans to go East,
to New York, which I'd not really seen,
though it seemed the right place
for a sophomore as sullen and restless
as I had become on that merciless
Midwestern plain. He slowly stroked
a thick cup and described the nights
when, a theology teacher in Boston, he'd fly
a tiny plane alone out over the ocean,
each time pressing farther into the dark
until the last moment, when he'd turn
toward the coast's bright spine, how he loved
the way the city glittered beneath him
as he glided gracefully toward it,
engine gasping, fuel needle dead on empty,
the way sweat dampened the back of his neck
when he climbed from the cockpit, giddy.
Buttoned up in my cardigan, young, willing
to lose everything, how could I see generosity
or warning? But now that I'm out here,
his advice comes so clear: fling yourself
farther, and a bit farther each time,
but darling, don't drop.

Literary and Historical Notes:

Today is April Fool's Day, a holiday celebrating practical jokes of all kinds, which goes back to at least the early 17th century.

It's the birthday of playwright Edmond Rostand, born in Marseilles, France (1868). He's best known as the author of the play Cyrano de Bergerac (1897), based on an actual person. Cyrano de Bergerac was famous in his day for his heroism on the battlefield, but after he survived a stab wound in the neck, he decided to study astronomy, and later wrote a satirical novel about traveling to the moon.

Rostand often embellished the details in his historical plays, and he decided to exaggerate historical accounts of Cyrano de Bergerac's large nose. In the play, Cyrano is the most dashing, brave and romantic man in France, able to compose sonnets while engaged in a sword fight, but he also has the largest nose anyone has ever seen. Because of his huge nose, he decides he can never win over Roxanne, the love of his life.

Edmond Rostand was in love with the famous actress Sarah Bernhardt when he wrote the play, and he wrote the part of Roxanne with Bernhardt in mind. Bernhardt never performed the role, but the play still became a huge hit in France.

In the play, Cyrano says of his nose, "A man ought to be proud, / Yes, proud, of having so proud an appendix / Of flesh and bone to crown his countenance, / Provided a great nose may be an index / Of a great soul."

It's the birthday of novelist Milan Kundera, born in Brno, Czechoslovakia (1929). He was a member of the Communist Party but he disagreed with the government that artists should only produce art that dealt with the "proletarian movement" and the "progression of society toward communism." Kundera began to rebel against these standards and speak out against censorship. The government later attacked and censored two collections of his poems, Man: A Broad Garden (1953) and Monologues (1957), because they were all about love affairs and had nothing to do with class struggle.

He was eventually forbidden to publish any books in Czechoslovakia. At first, he was miserable that he'd been forbidden to publish his work, but then he realized that if he couldn't publish in his country, he couldn't be censored either. For the first time in his life, he was free to write whatever he wanted. He wrote a novel called The Farewell Party (1976), which was published in France and won a major literary award there. He was allowed to travel to France, where he got a position teaching literature.

In exile from his home, he began to work on a novel called The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (1979) and went on to write many more books, including The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984).

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




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