Monday

Sep. 9, 2002

Farming In a Lilac Shirt

by Leo Dangel

MONDAY, 9 SEPTEMBER 2002
Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Farming In A Lilac Shirt," by Leo Dangel from Home From the Field: Collected Poems (Spoon River Poetry Press).

Farming in a Lilac Shirt

I opened the Sears catalog.
It was hard to decide-dress shirts
were all white the last time
I bought one, for Emma's funeral.
I picked out a color called plum,
but when the shirt arrived,
it seemed more the color of lilacs.
Still, it was beautiful.
No one I knew had a shirt like this.

After chores on Sunday, I dressed
for church. Suddenly the shirt
seemed to be a sissy color,
and I held it up near the window.
In the sun the lilac looked more lilac,
more lovely, but could a man
wear a shirt that color? Someone
might say, "That's quite the shirt."
I wore the old shirt to church.

And every Saturday night I thought,
Tomorrow I'll wear the shirt.
Such a sad terrible waste-to spend
good money on a shirt, a shirt
I even liked, and then not wear it.
I wore the shirt once, on a cold day,
and kept my coat buttoned.

In spring I began wearing the shirt
for everyday, when I was sure
no one would stop by. I wore the shirt
when I milked the cows and in the field
when I planted oats-it fit perfectly.
As I steered the John Deere,
I looked over my shoulder and saw
lilac against a blue sky
filled with white seagulls
following the tractor, and not once
did I wipe my nose on my sleeve.


It's the birthday of Otis Redding, born in Dawson, Georgia (1941). He is the man who gave us the song Sitting on the Dock of the Bay.

It's the birthday of James Hilton, the author of Goodbye, Mr. Chips, born in Leigh, Lancashire, England (1900).

It's the birthday of Colonel Harland Sanders, born in Henryville, Indiana (1890). He is the founder of the Kentucky Fried Chicken empire.

It's the birthday of Frances Cleveland who, in 1893, became the first baby to be born in the White House to a president.

It's the birthday of writer Cesare Pavese, born in 1908 in Santo Stefano Belbo, Italy. He was Italy's most prolific translator of American literature. His own creative efforts closely censored by the Fascist regime, he turned to translation as a form of expression. His own writing was influenced by American authors such as Gertrude Stein, William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, and Herman Melville.

It's the birthday of Leo Tolstoy, born in Yasnaya Polyana, Russia (1828). His most famous novels are War and Peace and Anna Karenina. He was born into a noble family dating to the 14th century, who owned a large estate, about 130 miles southwest of Moscow. His mother died early, and he was raised mostly by his grandmother and aunt. He recalled from his youth a blind storyteller that his grandfather had bought for the family as a source of entertainment. After not succeeding at the University of Kazan, he opened a school for peasant serf children to which he went through periods of great devotion. He wrote a reader for them to learn poetry from. He began writing while fighting in the army in Sevastopol during the Crimean War, and eventually retired from the army to devote himself entirely to writing. Considering himself a family man at heart, he married Sofya Andreyevna Behrs and had thirteen children. Meanwhile, he wrote his two great masterpieces. War and Peace¸ about five upper-class families and the Napoleonic war took him seven years to write, as he kept going back further and further in history. His wife was very devoted to him and it is said she copied War and Peace seven times for him. But, as he said in the opening lines of Anna Karenina, "All happy families resemble one another, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."


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

 









«

»

  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
The Writer's Almanac on Facebook


The Writer's Almanac on Twitter

Subscribe to our daily newsletter for poems, prose and literary history every morning
An interview with Jeffrey Harrison at The Writer's Almanac Bookshelf
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show
O, What a Luxury

Although he has edited several anthologies of his favorite poems, O, What a Luxury: Verses Lyrical, Vulgar, Pathetic & Profound forges a new path for Garrison Keillor, as a poet of light verse. Purchase O, What a Luxury »