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About this Poem 

"I wrote the first draft of this poem in 2008, on Claude Debussy’s birthday, August 22. Thus the title's numerical symmetry: '08/22/08.' The logic of mathematics suggested the leap from 1862, the year of Debussy’s birth, to his centenary year of 1962, then back to the present and forth to 1908—the present minus 100 years—with Debussy at work on his saxophone rhapsody. Time, then, is the subject. But time plus numbers are two thirds of the way to music, and Debussy’s music gets the last word, as it should."
—David Lehman


David Lehman, 1948

Today in 1862
Claude Debussy was born.
I remember where I was and what I was doing
one hundred years and two months later:
elementary algebra, trombone practice,
Julius Caesar on the record player
with Brando as Antony, simple
buttonhook patterns in football,
the French subjunctive, and the use
of "quarantine" rather than "blockade"
during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
It was considered the less belligerent word.
Much was made of it in 1962,
centenary of Debussy’s birth.
And if today I play his Rhapsody
for Saxophone and Orchestra

for the ten minutes it requires of
my undivided attention, who will attack me for
living in Paris in 1908 instead of now?
Let them. I'll take my stand,
my music stand, with the composer
of my favorite Danse Tarantelle.

Copyright © 2013 by David Lehman. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on August 22, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

David Lehman

David Lehman

David Lehman was born in New York City in 1948. He graduated

by this poet

I like walking on streets as black and wet as this one
now, at two in the solemnly musical morning, when everyone else
in this town emptied of Lestrygonians and Lotus-eaters
is asleep or trying or worrying why
they aren't asleep, while unknown to them Ulysses walks
into the shabby apartment I live in, humming
I was in a French movie
and had only nine hours to live
and I knew it
not because I planned to take my life
or swallowed a lethal but slow-working
potion meant for a juror
in a mob-related murder trial,
nor did I expect to be assassinated
like a chemical engineer mistaken
for someone important in Milan
or a Jew
If Ezra Pound were alive today
            (and he is)
he'd be teaching
at a small college in the Pacific Northwest
and attending the annual convention
of writing instructors in St. Louis
and railing against tenure,
saying tenure
is a ladder whose rungs slip out
from under the scholar as he climbs
upwards to