The Ides of March

posted in: Aging, Poetry | 0

Diving into the month that has transfixed history, with works by Julie Cadwallader Staub, Julia Carter Aldrich and Julie LeMay.
6 minutes


This episode commemorates the Ides of March, March 15 on the old Roman calendar. The ides originally corresponded to the full moon and all the superstitions that came with it. It continues to live on in history because it was the day Julius Caesar was assassinated. To commemorate it, poems by two Julies and a Julia.  

Julie Cadwallader Staub said, “I was sitting by Lake Champlain watching the sunset, when a mama mallard waddled along with her ducklings. I was inspired by the confidence she displayed as she settled into the water with all those ducklings following her.” And that prompted her — Julie, not the mama mallard — to write “Mallards.”  

The momma mallard knows as well as anyone  
the slicing teeth of the northern pike, 
the viselike grip of the snapping turtle, 
the deadly silence of the mink.  

Yet she waddles from the bank, sinks happily into the water  
and nine ducklings tumble in after her 
— those perky puffs of delight — 
scooting forward and back around their mother.  

There are thousands of ways to step out in faith  
and surely this is one of them 
to venture into this world 
of viciousness and tenderness.  

Though we remember the times 
the snapping turtle rose from the bottomland,  
though we are still lost in a lake of emptiness  
trying to capture ripples,  

yet, like the mallard, 
we amble out of our nests 
into the day 
expecting our precious children to do the same  

to venture forth  
counting on tenderness  

knowing in our bones  
that none of us, not one,  
was born to stay on land.  

Julie Cadwallader Staub’s “Mallards” from Passager Issue 65

As I said, it was on the Ides of March in 44 BCE that the Roman general Julius Caesar was assassinated by members of the Roman senate. Did any of the rest of you have to read Caesar’s Gallic Wars in Latin class? I did. He came, he saw, and he conquered my previous good grades in that class. 

Julia Carter Aldrich said, “I have always been moved and inspired by what is not said, what is not remembered, what is left behind — and the eerie sense of presence and presences that hang on. I lived in a once-thriving river town. And even though a freight train still ran through the town, it was the silence that was thick with meaning.” Here’s her poem “Tell Me.” 

Tell me: does the mountain remember 
being larded with blasting powder? 
Is there caught in the throats of tapped- 
out mines memory of the grind of iron claw 
on granite, the throb of engines with their haul,  
trod of oxen, grunt of men?  

What of the weird and waiting silence 
when the mineralogists had gone back home?  
The rusted cranes, their bent and broken  
backs, abandoned. Stone pylons hollow, 
with their fire gone cold. 
Is there, from these, no breath at all?  

Tell me: does the river remember what is gone?  
Night laughter from long-leveled shanties, 
paddys, guineas, hunkies, polaks, and squareheads.  
Some died, some stayed, most of them moved on.  

As for the forests: do the killed wolves sing?  
Do they mind their wild-haired beauty feared,  
their good not jotted down?  

Tell me: does the land remember what is gone?  

Julia Carter Aldrich’s “Tell Me” also from Passager Issue 65

The Ides of March is probably even more famous because Shakespeare wrote a play about Caesar, in which a soothsayer — whatever that is — warned him to “beware the Ides of March.” And, you’ll recall, as he was being stabbed by multiple members of the Roman Senate, Caesar said to his friend Marcus Brutus “et tu, Brute?” — Even you, Brutus! 

We’ll end with Julie LeMay’s “His Sadness Is a Lake” from Passager Issue 53

His sadness is a lake. 
He tells me 
if one tear leaks out, they will  
never stop. He leans, 
now silent, against the ice  

of the passenger window. 
The full moon watches through  
the falling snow. 
I order his Happy 
Meal, stare at the bright  

red and yellow sign 
like it’s a star to wish upon. 
I roll up the window and hear  
the tightness of his grief  
sitting in the space  

between us. 
He is sad because 
he is nine. He is sad  
because everything changes.  
I too am still reading  

that scripture. The moon 
doesn’t stay forever, the moon can’t  
always be seen. The boy turns 
away, looks out the window. The boy  
tries to make himself  

invisible. Mommy can’t fix  
everything. Mommy can’t 
fix anything. The boy will not cry  
tonight. When he is twenty 
three years old he will  

remember this night and cry 
tears of granite. Crying 
is overrated. Ria, ria rahnka I sing  
as my grandmother 
sang to me. The moon smiles  
while snow drifts on a frozen lake.  

“His Sadness Is a Lake,” Julie LeMay.   

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For Kendra, Mary, Christine, Rosanne, and the rest of the Passager staff, I’m Jon Shorr.