Feb. 5, 2007

A Wife Explains Why She Likes Country

by Barbara Ras

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Poem: "A Wife Explains Why She Likes Country" by Barbara Ras, from One Hidden Stuff. © Penguin Poets. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

A Wife Explains Why She Likes Country

Because those cows in the bottomland are black and white, colors
anyone can understand, even against the green
of the grass, where they glide like yes and no, nothing in between,
because in the country, heartache has nowhere to hide,
it's the Church of Abundant Life, the Alamo,
the hubbub of the hoi polloi, the parallel lines of rail fences,
because I like rodeos more than I like golf,
because there's something about the sound of mealworms and
leeches and the dream of a double-wide
that reminds me this is America, because of the simple pleasure
of a last chance, because sometimes whiskey
tastes better than wine, because hauling hogs on the road
is as good as it gets when the big bodies are layered like pigs in a cake,
not one layer but two,
because only country has a gun with a full choke and a slide guitar
that melts playing it cool into sweaty surrender in one note,
because in country you can smoke forever and it'll never kill you,
because roadbeds, flatbeds, your bed or mine,
because the package store is right across from the chicken plant
and it sells boiled peanuts, because I'm fixin' to wear boots to the dance
and make my hair bigger, because no smarty-pants, just easy rhymes,
perfect love, because I'm lost deep within myself and the sad songs call me out,
because even you with your superior aesthetic cried
when Tammy Wynette died,
because my people
come from dirt.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of one of the few Catholic priests who's ever been a best-selling novelist, Andrew Greeley, (books by this author) born in Oak Park, Illinois (1928). Soon after his ordination in 1954, Greeley decided that he had other interests beyond running a parish. He went on to get a Ph.D. at the University of Chicago, and he became a professor of sociology. He began writing about the changing role of religion in society and eventually published more than 60 books on sociology, religion, and other subjects. But he also began to write novels, and he generated a storm of controversy with his fourth novel, The Cardinal Sins (1981).

The Cardinal Sins tells the story of a young Irish boy named Patrick Donahue from Chicago's West Side who becomes a priest and then rises through the ranks of the church hierarchy, eventually becoming the archbishop of Chicago and a cardinal. Along the way, he takes a mistress and fathers an illegitimate child. At the time, many people thought the novel was a veiled attack on Cardinal John Cody, then the Archbishop of Chicago.

Greeley went on to write several other novels that were controversial, in part because they exposed the behind-the-scenes world of the Catholic Church, and in part because they often contained explicit sex scenes. He was eventually ostracized by his local church leaders, and when he tried to donate $1 million of the proceeds from his books to the Chicago Catholic schools, they refused to take his money. He said, "It was arguably the first time in history the Catholic Church has turned down money from anyone."

Greeley has now written more than 150 books, which have sold more than 15 million copies. When asked how he can write so much, he said, "I suppose I have the Irish weakness for words gone wild. Besides, if you're celibate, you have to do something."

It's the birthday of a French woman famous for writing letters, Marie de Sévigné, born in Paris (1626). She wrote, "We like so much to hear people talk of us and of our motives, that we are charmed even when they abuse us."

It's the birthday of the novelist William S (Seward) Burroughs, (books by this author) born in St. Louis, Missouri (1914). He was the grandson of a man who'd gotten rich inventing an adding machine, and he grew up in one of St. Louis's wealthiest communities. But Burroughs never fit into the society his parents belonged to, and he didn't fit in at Harvard either. He kept a ferret and a .32-caliber revolver in his dorm room. He started writing, but when a piece of his was rejected by Esquire magazine, he was so disappointed that he didn't write again for six years. He tried to enlist in the military, but he was turned down by the Navy,and when he got into the Army infantry, his mother arranged for him to be given a psychiatric discharge.

So, at 30 years old, he moved to New York City and got involved in a bohemian scene. It was there that he was introduced to two younger men, Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. He also got addicted to heroin, and wrote his first book about it, a memoir called Junky. It came out in 1953. But his friends had to help him piece together the fragments that became the book he's best known for: Naked Lunch (1959).

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