Mar. 5, 2007

While We Wait for Spring

by Todd Davis

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Poem: "While We Wait for Spring" by Todd Davis, from Some Heaven. © Michigan State University Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

While We Wait for Spring

The last three days snow has fallen.
No thaw this year, no day even above
twenty since the end of December.
Climbing the hill, my two boys slip, fall,
stand again. They complain, but there's nothing
to be done except to make it to the top
where above the trees we will look down
upon the river. Near the peak a barred owl
releases from the limb of a burr oak, sweeps
over our heads and out above the tree line.
Our eyes follow its flight to the river ice,
current moving beneath its blue surface.
Like the owl, our breath rises, drifts
toward something warmer, something better.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of novelist Leslie Marmon Silko, (books by this author) born in Albuquerque, New Mexico (1948). She grew up on a Pueblo reservation, where her community was made up of matrilineal families: Women owned the houses and the fields and were the authority figures, and men did much of the child rearing. Her first novel, Ceremony (1977), was one of the first novels ever published by a Native American woman, and many critics consider it a masterpiece.

It's the birthday of novelist Frank Norris, (books by this author) born in Chicago, Illinois (1870). His father was a wealthy self-made jewelry store owner, and Norris grew up in a luxurious household where his mother read him poetry by Robert Browning and Alfred, Lord Tennyson. When he was in college, Norris became a disciple of the French novelist Emile Zola, and he began to write fiction in the school of naturalism, which portrayed human beings as irrational animals, driven by instincts. His first important novel was McTeague (1899), about a dentist who loses his job, murders his wife for money, and runs away to Death Valley in California.

Frank Norris said, "I never truckled; I never took off the hat to Fashion and held it out for pennies. By God, I told them the truth."

On this day in 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt ordered a four-day bank holiday in an effort to curtail the devastating "bank runs" of the Great Depression, when panicky investors withdrew their money from the banks.

It was on this day in 1933 that the Nazi Party won the majority of the seats in the German parliament, known as the Reichstag, effectively taking control of the country. It was the last free election in Germany until the end of World War II.

Six days before the election, the Reichstag building caught fire, supposedly set by a communist terrorist. The Nazis used the fire as a symbol of the chaos that they would help correct. No one knows for sure, but some historians believe that the Nazis set the fire themselves. In the days after the fire, Hitler persuaded the president to issue new restrictions on personal liberties. Men with ladders suddenly began going around the cities and covering up political posters with plain white paper. All political parties other than the Nazis were forbidden to campaign in the last few days before the vote. And the plan worked. The Nazis took a majority, handing Hitler enough votes to grant himself absolute power.

Just five days after the election, Victor Klemperer, a Jewish professor of romantic languages living in Germany, wrote in his diary: "What, up to election Sunday on March 5, I called terror, was a mild prelude. ... It's astounding how easily everything collapses. ... Since [the election,] day after day commissioners appointed, provincial governments trampled underfoot, flags raised, buildings taken over, people shot, newspapers banned, etc., etc. ... A complete revolution and party dictatorship. And all opposing forces as if vanished from the earth. ... No one dares say anything anymore, everyone is afraid."

It's the anniversary of the Boston Massacre, which took place on a cold and snowy night in 1770. It was touched off by an argument between a young barber's apprentice and a British officer about payment for a haircut. The barber's apprentice claimed that the officer had not paid, and the soldier reportedly knocked the kid down in the street.

A crowd of young men who were watching shouted at the officer, and they began throwing snowballs and pieces of ice at him. The officer fled to the Customs House nearby, where a sentry stood guard with his musket. Other soldiers came out of the Customs House to help defend the men against the crowd, which was growing. Someone rang the fire bell, and more people flooded the streets to see what was happening. The crowd grew rowdier, throwing ice, oyster shells, and lumps of sea coal. The soldiers brandished their weapons, but the crowd dared them to shoot, calling them cowards.

Suddenly shots rang out. When the smoke cleared, five colonists were dead or dying — Crispus Attucks, Patrick Carr, Samuel Gray, Samuel Maverick, and Christopher Monk — and three more were injured. It was hardly a massacre, but the more revolutionary members of the colonies played it up as much as they could.

The soldiers were put on trial, and it turned out that the man chosen to represent them was the American patriot John Adams. He didn't support the British by any means, but he was told that no one else would take the case, and he believed that all men deserve a good defense under the law. So he took the case, and he managed to get most of the soldiers acquitted.

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




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