Sep. 13, 2005
Poem: "Mennonites" by Julia Kasdorf, from What I Learned from my Mother © University of Pittsburgh Press. Reprinted with permission.
We keep our quilts in closets and do not dance.
We hoe thistles along fence rows for fear
we may not be perfect as our Heavenly Father.
We clean up his disasters. No one has to
call; we just show up in the wake of tornadoes
with hammers, after floods with buckets.
Like Jesus, the servant, we wash each other's feet
twice a year and eat the Lord's Supper,
afraid of sins hidden so deep in our organs
they could damn us unawares,
swallowing this bread, his body, this juice.
Growing up, we love the engravings in Martyrs Mirror:
men drowned like cats in burlap sacks,
the Catholic inquisitors,
the woman who handed a pear to her son,
her tongue screwed to the roof of her mouth
to keep her from singing hymns while she burned.
We love Catherine the Great and the rich tracts
she gave us in the Ukraine, bright green winter wheat,
the Cossacks who torched it, and Stalin,
who starved our cousins while wheat rotted
in granaries. We must love our enemies.
We must forgive as our sins are forgiven,
our great-uncle tells us, showing the chain
and ball in a cage whittled from one block of wood
while he was in prison for refusing to shoulder
a gun. He shows the clipping from 1916:
Mennonites are German milksops, too yellow to fight.
We love those Nazi soldiers who, like Moses,
led the last cattle cars rocking out of the Ukraine,
crammed with our parentschildren then
learning the names of Kansas, Saskatchewan, Paraguay.
This is why we cannot leave the beliefs
or what else would we be? why we eat
'til we're drunk on shoofly and moon pies and borscht.
We do not drink; we sing. Unaccompanied on Sundays,
those hymns in four parts, our voices lift with such force
that we lift, as chaff lifts toward God.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It's the birthday of Sherwood Anderson, born in Camden, Ohio (1876). He's the author of Winesburg, Ohio.
It's the birthday of John Boynton (J.B.) Priestley, born in Bradford, England (1894). He was one of the great English men of letters of the 20th Century. He wrote more than a hundred books of fiction and essays and drama.
The defining experience of his life was World War I. He served in the Army. Most of his friends were killed. He believed that England was never the same afterwards. He said, "I belong at heart to the pre-1914 North Country."
He never wrote fiction about the war. He thought it would be disrespectful. His favorite of his own novels was Bright Day, about his hometown before the war.
It's the birthday of Roald Dahl, born in Llandaff, South Wales (1916). He was sent off to private boarding schools as a kid, which he hated except for the chocolates, Cadbury chocolates. The Cadbury chocolate company had chosen his school as a focus group for new candies they were developing. Every so often, a plain gray cardboard box was issued to each child, filled with eleven chocolate bars. It was the children's task to rate the candy, and Dahl took his job very seriously. About one of the sample candy bars, he wrote, "Too subtle for the common palate." He later said that the experience got him thinking about candy as something manufactured in a factory, and he spent a lot of time imagining what a candy factory might be like. Today, he's best known for his children's book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
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