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