Sep. 2, 2008

When We Sold the Tent

by Rhina P. Espaillat

When we sold the tent
we threw in the Grand Canyon
with its shawl of pines,
lap full of cones and chipmunks
and crooked seams of river.

We let them have the
parched white moonscapes of Utah,
and Colorado's
magnificat of flowers
sunbursting hill after hill.

Long gentle stretches
of Wyoming, rain outside
some sad Idaho
town where the children, giddy
with strange places, clowned all night.

Eyes like small veiled moons
circling our single light, sleek
shadows with pawprints,
all went with the outfit; and
youth, a river of campfires.

"When We Sold the Tent" by Rhina P. Espaillat from Playing at Stillness. © Truman State University Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Early in the morning of this day in 1666, a small fire broke out in a baker's shop on Pudding Lane in London. The flames soon spread, and within hours all of London was ablaze. When it was all over the Great Fire of London destroyed more than 80 percent of the city, including over thirteen thousand houses. The diarist Samuel Pepys watched the fire from across the Thames River, after burying his wine and Parmesan cheese to keep them safe from the fire. He wrote about it in his diary.

After the fire was over, the architect Christopher Wren was hired to rebuild the more than eighty churches destroyed by the blaze, including St. Paul's Cathedral.

It's the birthday of Austrian novelist and journalist Joseph Roth, (books by this author) born in Brody, Ukraine (1894). He's an author who was barely known during his lifetime, but has in the last few years come to be regarded as one of the greatest novelists to come out of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire.

He started out as a journalist just after the end of the First World War, and he began moving back and forth between Berlin and Paris, as well as Russia, Poland, Albania, Italy, and southern France. He covered the riots and assassinations and political uprisings that went on all over Europe during the 1920s and '30s. He rarely had a home in his adult life, and lived in hotels for years on end. He wrote his novels in between newspaper deadlines, while sitting at café counters. He somehow managed to produce sixteen novels in sixteen years.

He had one big hit novel, Job (1930), a modern retelling of the biblical story. Roth was inspired by his small success to try writing a big ambitious book, and the result was his masterpiece, Radetsky March (1932), a historical novel about the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The book had just come out when Hitler came to power in Germany, and Roth had to flee the country. As a result, he lost his publishers, his newspaper employers, and his readers.

Roth spent his last years in Paris, living in poverty and suffering from alcoholism. When he died in 1939, he was largely unknown as a writer. The Nazis had done their best to get rid of all of his books. His last novel had been published in the Netherlands, and the Nazis destroyed the entire first printing of the book just after it had come off the presses.

It's only been in the last few years that all of his work has been translated into English. A translation of The Collected Stories of Joseph Roth came out in 2002.

Joseph Roth said, "We all overestimated the world."

It was on this day in 1945 that Japan formally surrendered to the United States, marking the end of World War II. It was a gray, overcast day. The surrender took place on the U.S.S. Missouri in Tokyo Bay, and witnesses later said that from the ship they could see the sunken wrecks of Japanese ships all around the harbor, left over from American bombings.

General MacArthur came aboard at about 9:00 a.m. A few minutes later, the Japanese contingent arrived. A naval chaplain delivered an invocation and a recording of "The Star-Spangled Banner" was played. General MacArthur read some brief remarks, and then the documents were laid out for signing. The whole signing ceremony took about ten minutes, and it was carried out in silence. When it was over, MacArthur said, "Let us pray that peace be now restored to the world and that God will preserve it always. These proceedings are now closed." And with that, he walked off the ship, without having ever formally acknowledged the Japanese men who'd just surrendered to him.

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




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