Oct. 11, 2007

Raising Their Hands

by Julie Lisella

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Poem: "Raising Their Hands" by Julia Lisella, from Learning By Heart: Contemporary American Poetry about School. Used with permission of the poet.

Raising Their Hands

Sometimes I dream about my students,
the pink of their palms
red and raw.
One student, seven feet tall,
his long back
hunched over the desk,
his arm out and above him —
he could be waving
or stopping a train.
Another student wears eyeliner for the stage.
She bends from the ribs
her body forming a tiny "c,"
her hand up sudden as a whitecap.

Some days they frighten me.
Put your hands down, I tell them.
Shout. Explode. Scream it.
Instead they look at me and smile
the way they would at foreigners who don't speak the language.
That's how they've trained me.
Now I wait until I see a scatter of fingers
and then I choose —
Yes, your palm, your hand,
your arched spine,
you with your idea,

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of experimental short-story writer and novelist Ben Marcus, (books by this author) born in Chicago (1967), whose first book, The Age of Wire and String (1995), is a sort of fictional encyclopedia, organized into the categories "Sleep," "God," "Food," "The House," "Animal," "Weather," "Persons," and "The Society," each of which includes five brief essays and a glossary. His novel Notable American Women (2002), which takes place in a futuristic Ohio, is about a boy raised by his mother in a radical feminist society called "The Silentists." The main character of the book is named Ben Marcus, but when asked if the book was autobiographical, Ben Marcus said, "My family was very loving and I've never been to Ohio."

It's the birthday of the crime novelist Elmore Leonard, (books by this author) born in New Orleans (1925), who published 22 novels before he had his first best-seller in 1985 with his novel Glitz. His books didn't catch on right away because, unlike most crime novels, they weren't mysteries, they didn't have a recurring detective as a hero, and they were more about the characters than the plot. He once said that every time he finishes a book, he continues thinking about his characters for weeks, wondering what they're doing. When asked why he writes crime novels at all, Leonard said, "I just feel more secure in a situation where I know a gun can go off at any time if things get boring." To write about criminals, he said, "I [try] to put myself in [a criminal's] place. He doesn't think he's doing an evil thing. ... I see convicts sitting around talking about a baseball game. I see them as kids. All villains have mothers."

More of Elmore Leonard's books have been optioned by Hollywood than those of any other living novelist. Nineteen of them have become movies, but he thinks only three or four of those movies are any good.

It's the birthday of (Anna) Eleanor Roosevelt, born in New York City (1884), who grew up feeling plain and boring compared to her beautiful, fashionable mother. She said, "I seemed like a little old woman entirely lacking in the spontaneous joy and mirth of youth." But one day on a train to visit her grandmother, she happened to bump into her distant cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. They started a secret courtship and got married in 1905.

The Roosevelts' marriage nearly ended in 1918, when Eleanor found out FDR had been having an affair with a secretary. They agreed not to divorce, but after that Eleanor grew increasingly independent. She developed her own ideas about politics, joined the Women's Trade Union League and the League of Women Voters. When FDR was elected president in 1932, she helped institute regular White House press conferences for female correspondents only, which forced many news organizations to hire women for the first time.

She toured the country during the Great Depression to give her husband a firsthand account of how people were doing, and she was a supporter of civil rights before her husband was. In 1936, she started a syndicated newspaper column called "My Day," and after her husband died in 1945, she became a delegate to the United Nations and helped draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

Eleanor Roosevelt, who said, "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."

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