Jul. 12, 2008

Back to Back

by Debra Kang Dean

At sixteen my mother had been a swimmer.
I have seen a picture of her

poised at the edge of the pool, knees bent,
hands on knees, and smiling with her teammates.

My aunt once said back then she swam
as gracefully as Esther Williams.

But that is not how I remember her.
It is when I am sixteen and a runner

and am forever wanting to stand against her,
back to back, to see who's taller;

however much I stretch I still come up
an inch short. I've called her up

to have her drive me home from practice.
We ride home in utter silence

after my curt "thanks" and her nod,
not for a lack of feeling, but for want of words.

Following her in, cleats slung over my shoulder,
I tell her to wait, I'll help her.

Already she's at the sink, peeling potatoes
and humming, one foot lifted like a flamingo.

"Back to Back" by Debra Kang Dean from News of Home: Poems. © BOA Editions, 1998. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Henry David Thoreau, (books by this author) born David Henry Thoreau in Concord, Massachusetts (1817). He's the author of Walden; or, Life in the Woods(1854) and the essay "Civil Disobedience" (1849). He went off to Harvard when he was just 16. He was 27 when he built a small cabin on the edge of Walden Pond, a small lake near Concord, and wrote about his time there.

Thoreau said, "Do not be too moral. You may cheat yourself out of much life. Aim above morality. Be not simply good; be good for something."

It's the birthday of the lyricist and producer Oscar Hammerstein I, born in New York City (1895). Together with the composer Richard Rodgers, he was part of the famous songwriting duo Rodgers and Hammerstein. Their Broadway hits include the musicals Oklahoma! (1943), South Pacific (1949), The King and I (1951), and The Sound of Music (1959).

It's the birthday of poet and politician Pablo Neruda, (books by this author) born in Parral, Chile (1904). He won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1971. In his Nobel lecture he said, "All paths lead to the same goal: to convey to others what we are."

It's the birthday of (Gaius) Julius Caesar, born in Rome around 100 B.C. He was the great military leader who managed to capture most of what became France and Great Britain for the Roman Empire.

In a series of dispatches from the battlefield, Caesar became his own war correspondent. Unlike many of the Roman poets and historians of the era, Caesar wrote short descriptive prose that was easy for ordinary people to understand. His stories of military victories turned him into a national hero, but the Roman Senate increasingly saw him as a threat. It passed legislation requiring him to lay down his military command and return to Rome.

But Caesar realized that he had the largest and most battle-tested army in the empire under his command. And if he returned to Rome, his political opponents would end his career. And so, on January 10, 49 B.C., Caesar crossed the Rubicon River with his army, directly challenging the authority of the Senate. The result was a civil war. Though he was outnumbered in many of the major battles, Caesar won the war. And he was extremely merciful with captured military leaders because he wanted them as his allies. That might have been his biggest mistake, since it was a group of those men he spared that began to conspire against him.

He was an absolute dictator of Rome, with ambitious plans to redistribute wealth and land. But a group of senators, led by Brutus and Cassius, wanted to bring back the old republic. So they organized an assassination on the steps of the Senate.

The Roman republic never returned. Instead, Rome would be ruled by a series of emperors for the rest of the empire's existence.

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




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