Oct. 1, 2007

Marcus Millsap: School Day Afternoon

by Dave Etter

Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Marcus Millsap: School Day Afternoon" by Dave Etter, from Alliance, Illinois. © Spoon River Press, 1983. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Marcus Millsap: School Day Afternoon

I climb the steps of the yellow school bus,
move to a seat in back, and we're off,
bouncing along the bumpy blacktop.
What am I going to do when I get home?
I'm going to make myself a sugar sandwich
and go outdoors and look at the birds
and the gigantic blue silo
they put up across the road at Motts'.
This weekend we're going to the farm show.
I like roosters and pigs, but farming's no fun.
When I get old enough to do something big,
I'd like to grow orange trees in a greenhouse.
Or maybe I'll drive a school bus
and yell at the kids when I feel mad:
"Shut up back there, you hear me?"
At last, my house, and I grab my science book
and hurry down the steps into the sun.
There's Mr. Mott, staring at his tractor.
He's wearing his DeKalb cap
with the crazy winged ear of corn on it.
He wouldn't wave over here to me
if I was handing out hundred dollar bills.
I'll put brown sugar on my bread this time,
then go lie around by the water pump,
where the grass is very green and soft,
soft as the body of a red-winged blackbird.
Imagine, a blue silo to stare at,
and Mother not coming home till dark!

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the 39th president of the United States, Jimmy Carter, (books by this author) born in Plains, Georgia (1924), who served only one term as the governor of Georgia before he ran for president in the wake of the Watergate scandal as an ordinary, honest peanut farmer. On Inauguration Day, he walked to the ceremony rather than riding in a limousine. He often appeared in public in casual clothes, sold off the presidential yacht, and even banned the playing of "Hail to the Chief" when he entered a room. He had Democratic majorities in Congress, but he had a hard time dealing with rising inflation and the energy crisis because he didn't like compromising with other politicians. He was defeated in a landslide in 1980, and went back to his hometown in Georgia, feeling like a failure.

He wasn't sure what to do, so he started gathering papers for a memoir, and then he decided to just go out into the world to solve problems. He became one of the most active ex-presidents in American history, traveled all over the world talking about human rights, fair elections, new farming techniques, and water safety; brokered several cease fires, wrote numerous books, and got into carpentry, helping to build houses for the poor with Habitat for Humanity. He even carved his own four-poster bed for himself and his wife. He said, "As president, I wouldn't have had time to do all the things I'm doing now." He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 — Jimmy Carter, who said, "America did not invent human rights. In a very real way, human rights invented America."

It's the birthday of Tim O'Brien, (books by this author) born in Worthington, Minnesota (1946), who had just finished college and was planning to go on to grad school at Harvard when he was drafted to fight in the Vietnam War. He said, "Even when I was getting on the plane for boot camp, I couldn't believe any of it was happening to me, someone who hated Boy Scouts and bugs and rifles." He was stationed near the village of My Lai, and he was constantly aware that the villagers hated the Americans. He only later learned that most of the inhabitants of that village had been massacred by American soldiers just before he arrived in the country.

He published his first essay about the war in Playboy magazine before he even came home, and he wrote a memoir of his experiences called If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home (1973). Since then almost all his books have touched on Vietnam in one way or another. He likes writing war stories because, he said, "In a war story there is a built-in life and death importance, one that a writer would have to construct otherwise. When you start a story saying, 'It was a hot day,' and you know it's a war story, the hot day has all sorts of reverberations that wouldn't be there if it were set on a beach in Miami."

Tim O'Brien's most recent novel July, July came out in 2002.

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 »