Wednesday

Nov. 27, 2002

Closing in on the Harvest

by Leo Dangel

WEDNESDAY, 27 NOVEMBER 2002
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Poem: "Closing in on the Harvest," by Leo Dangel from Home From the Field (Spoon River Poetry Press).

Closing in on the Harvest

No one could stop him.
A bad heart, he still
worked in the field
and said he would die
on the tractor.
Out on the Super-M
picking corn, somehow
he got off, though,
and sat on the ground,
leaning against the tire,
where we found him.
His eyes were wide open,
looking mean as hell,
like when he was alive
and chores weren't done,
but his hand
lay on his chest, gentle,
making us think
he was pledging something.
We could smell
the dry wind.
The tractor radio was on
to the World Series-
Cardinals 7, Yankees 5,
Bob Gibson on the mound,
one out to go-
the steel corn wagon
was not quite full.


It's the birthday of James Rufus Agee, born in Knoxville, Tennessee (1909). He wrote Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941), A Death in the Family (1957), and the screenplay for The African Queen (1951). In 1936 he went to Alabama with the photographer Walker Evans to do a human interest story for Fortune magazine about the effect of the Depression on ordinary people. Evans made portraits of three sharecropping families, but Agee couldn't finish the essay that was supposed to go with them. He said that if he failed, people would feel sorry for the sharecroppers; if he succeeded, people would understand that their lives, though plain and fraught with difficulty, were, nonetheless, filled with grace. He finally finished his essay, but Fortune never published it. It was published as Let Us Now Praise Famous Men five years later and sold only six hundred copies, although it is widely read today. He wrote, "Here I must say, a little anyhow: what I can hardly hope to bear out in the record: That a house of simple people which stands empty and silent in the vast Southern country morning sunlight and everything which on this morning in eternal space it by chance contains, all thus left open and defenseless to a reverent and cold-laboring spy, shines quietly forth such grandeur, such sorrowful holiness of its exactitudes in existence as no human consciousness shall ever rightly perceive, much less impart to another."

It's the birthday of the actress Fanny Kemble, born in London (1809), who wrote Journal of a Residence on a Georgia Plantation (1863), an account of the conditions the slaves on her husband's plantation were forced to endure. It helped to convince the British not to support the Confederacy, but it cost her her marriage and the custody of her children.

On this day in 8 B.C., the Roman poet Horace died. He hated the chaos of Rome, and when his patron gave him a farm in the Italian countryside, he wrote, "I prayed for this: a modest swatch of land/where I could garden, an ever-flowing spring/close by, and a small patch of woods above/the house. The gods gave all I asked and more./I pray for nothing more, but/that these blessings last my life's full term."


(Instapaper)

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