Dec. 1, 2013

Would It Be So Wrong

by Krista Lukas

to suggest that he move
next door? I don't want him
gone altogether, neither can I stand
him underfoot. It might be ideal
to holler over the fence,
invite him to dinner.
We'd sit together on the patio, eat
asparagus from his garden,
grilled shrimp under the setting sun,
then kiss the grease from our lips,
maybe more. After,
he'd go home
and watch basketball at full volume,
while I soak in the tub listening to Coltrane.
Then, wearing pajamas, hair uncombed,
I'd curl up in my own living
room with Robert Frost or People
and the cat, the quiet,
the light of a single lamp.

"Would It Be So Wrong" by Krista Lukas, from Fans of My Unconscious. The Black Rock Press, © 2013. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

On this date in 1955, Rosa Parks (books by this author) refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus. The Montgomery bus segregation policy at that time dictated that the black and white sections were fluid based on need; whites were guaranteed at least the first four rows, but the boundary between the sections was wherever the dividing sign was at any given moment. If the bus was crowded with a lot of white passengers, the black section was pushed farther back toward the back of the bus. Sometimes the driver would eliminate the black section altogether; whenever this happened, the black passengers were forced to leave the bus and wait for another. Also, if there were white passengers in the front of the bus, black passengers weren't allowed to walk past them to take their seats; they could board the front of the bus to pay their fare, but then had to get off and board by the back entrance, and it wasn't uncommon for the bus to pull away before they had a chance to do so.

On this day, Parks, an African-American seamstress, sat down in the front row of the black section on her way home from work. All was well until the bus became more crowded with white passengers, and the driver moved the divider back; now Parks was seated in the white section. The driver demanded that she give up her seat to a white man, and she refused. She was tired from working all day, but she was also fed up; this had happened to her several times before. Years later, she recalled, "When that white driver stepped back toward us, when he waved his hand and ordered us up and out of our seats, I felt a determination cover my body like a quilt on a winter night." She refused to give up her seat. "When he saw me still sitting, he asked if I was going to stand up, and I said, 'No, I'm not.' And he said, 'Well, if you don't stand up, I'm going to have to call the police and have you arrested.' I said, 'You may do that.'"

Parks' arrest was the catalyst that the newly formed Montgomery Improvement Association needed to organize a boycott of the city's buses on December 5. A 26-year-old pastor named Martin Luther King Jr. emerged as the protest's leader; on the first night of the boycott he came forward and said, "The great glory of the American democracy is the right to protest for right." The boycott continued for over a year, and ultimately the United States Supreme Court ruled that the segregation policy was unconstitutional.

It was on this day in 1589 that the first part of Edmund Spenser's epic poem "The Faerie Queene" was registered for publication in London (books by this author). Spenser was English, but he had written most of the poem in Ireland.

Ten years earlier, Spenser had published a book of pastoral poems called The Shepheardes Calender (1579). It had been a great success at court — Spenser found himself admired by the rich and famous, and a powerful lord offered to serve as his patron. But it was virtually impossible to make a living as a poet, and Spenser was short on money, so one of his wealthy admirers pulled some strings and got him a job as a secretary to Lord Grey, the new Deputy to Ireland.

The 28-year-old poet set out for Ireland, where Grey crushed an Irish rebellion against the English. After the rebels were defeated, the English seized land from the Irish, and Spenser was given a piece of land to live on. The land was an estate of about 3,000 acres, with hills, streams, and a castle. For the next 10 years, Spenser worked for Grey and wrote the first part of The Faerie Queene. The work was all-consuming, and as far as anyone knows, he didn't write any other poetry during all those years.

In Ireland, Spenser met English poet and adventurer Sir Walter Raleigh, who had a nearby 12,000-acre estate. In the summer of 1589, Raleigh spent some time in Ireland, where he visited Spenser, who showed him his first three parts of The Faerie Queene. Raleigh was delighted, and insisted that Spenser return to London to personally present the work to Queen Elizabeth; he was sure she would love it. They traveled to England together that fall, and on this day, Spenser registered The Faerie Queene for publication. When it was published, probably early in 1590, Spenser dedicated it to "the most mightie and magnificent empress Elizabeth."

Elizabeth requested an audience with Spenser, to have him read his poem aloud. She did love it, and once again he was at the center of the English court, with more admirers and patrons than ever. He hoped he would receive a royal pension or a government job so he could stay in England. According to legend, after hearing The Faerie Queene, Elizabeth suggested that Spenser be paid £100; but her chief advisor, Lord Burghley, didn't think much of Spenser, and objected to such a generous gift. So Elizabeth told him to pay the poet "what is reason." Burghley didn't pay him at all. After a few months, Spenser sent Elizabeth a poem: "I was promised on a time / To have a reason for my rhyme; / From that time unto this season, / I received nor rhyme nor reason." Spenser got his payment, and the phrase "rhyme or reason" became part of the English language.

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