Mar. 15, 2008

San Antonio

by Naomi Shihab Nye

Tonight I lingered over your name,
the delicate assembly of vowels
a voice inside my head.
You were sleeping when I arrived.
I stood by your bed
and watched the sheets rise gently.
I knew what slant of light
would make you turn over.
It was then I felt
the highways slide out of my hands.
I remembered the old men
in the west side café,
dealing dominoes like magical charms.
It was then I knew,
like a woman looking backward,
I could not leave you,
or find anyone I loved more.

"San Antonio" by Naomi Shihab Nye from Is this Forever, or What? Poems and Paintings from Texas. © Harper Collins Publishers, 2004. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today is the infamous Ides of March. Two thousand fifty-two years ago on this day, the Roman emperor Julius Caesar was stabbed to death by senators who called themselves the Liberatores (Liberators) and claimed they were preserving the integrity of the Roman system. Although Caesar ostensibly refused to be named king, he had no qualms about stamping his face on coins (a spot previously reserved for gods), and he happily assumed the title "dictator for life" in February of 44 B.C.E., just a month before his assassination. The most famous of the Liberators is Marcus Brutus, a man personally connected to Caesar. Brutus's mother, Servilia, was one of Caesar's lovers, and Caesar singled Brutus out as a young man of promise and gave him a government position. It's not certain why Brutus conspired to kill Caesar, but the young man did come from a family of anti-authoritarians — his ancestor Junius Brutus overthrew the last king of Rome in 509 B.C.E.

Today is the birthday of Andrew Jackson, the seventh president of the United States, born in the Waxhaw settlement on the border of North and South Carolina in 1767. He was born to Scotch-Irish parents; his father died in a logging accident and his mother raised three sons by herself until she died when Andrew was 14. Jackson had a fiery temper and a fierce sense of honor, which led to frequent brawls; he killed a man in a duel who insulted his wife.

Jackson ran for president in 1824 and decisively won the popular vote, but since he didn't have the electorate majority, the House of Representatives was allowed to choose and opted for the refined John Quincy Adams over the backwoods Jackson. Jackson spent the next four years portraying himself as the peoples' candidate and appealing to working-class voters, a successful strategy that won him the 1828 and 1832 elections and has been used ever since by presidential hopefuls. The 1828 election split the Democratic-Republican party in two; Adams emerged as leader of the Republican party, and Jackson of the Democratic-Republican Party.

Jackson was the first president who did not come from the aristocracy and he is remembered as a populist and a war hero.

It's is the birthday of the playwright and folklorist Isabella Augusta, Lady Gregory, (books by this author) born in Galway, Ireland (1852). Lady Gregory is best remembered as an instrumental figure in the Irish Literary Revival. At age 28, Isabella Augusta married the 63-year-old widower Sir William Henry Gregory; the couple's estate at Coole Park became a haven for Irish Revival writers, including W.B. Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, and Sean O'Casey. Yeats actually wrote several poems set at the estate, including "The Wild Swans at Coole."

Lady Gregory cofounded the Irish Literary Theatre with Yeats in 1899, which became the Abbey Theater Company. Encouraged by Yeats, Lady Gregory collected regional folklore and published numerous translations and retellings of local mythology, including Poets and Dreamers (1903) and God and Fighting Men (1904). Lady Gregory's first play was Twenty Five (1904); in the next eight years she wrote 19 original plays and seven works of translation, all for the Abbey, including The Doctor in Spite of Himself (1906), The Image (1909), and MacDonough's Wife (1912).

Today is the birthday of novelist and poet Ben Okri, (books by this author) born in Minna, Nigeria, in 1959. His family lived in London for a while, but returned to Nigeria when he was nine. The protagonists of his first two novels — Flowers and Shadows (1980) and The Landscapes Within (1981) — are young Nigerian men navigating political and personal turmoil. Okri went on to win a Booker prize for The Famished Road, the first in a trilogy of novels chronicling the life of a spirit child in a Nigerian village. Other books in the trilogy are Songs of Enchantment (1993) and Infinite Riches (1998).

Okri resists labels, not just for himself but for literature in general: "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."

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