Jan. 10, 2009
Recollection of Tranquility
The first time we ever quarreled
you were cutting an onion
in the kitchen of our rented cottage.
I remember vividly. We were making creole
for a late night supper with champagne,
and you were taking it seemed forever
to cut the onion.
Each time your dull paring knife
chopped on the counter, I shifted my feet,
and I saw once in a glimpse over my shoulder
a white wedge of onion wobbling loose.
I sighed inaudibly. The butter I stirred
had already bubbled and browned.
I was starting over with a new yellow lump
that was slipping on the silver aluminum
when you brought, cupped in your hands,
the broken pieces, the edges all ragged,
the layers separated, bruised and oozing
cloudy white onion juice.
the family recipe stated specifically,
the onion must be "finely chopped,"
for what I explained were very good reasons.
Otherwise, the pungent flavors would be trapped
irrevocably in the collapsed cellular structure
of the delicate root.
You sighed, I guess, inaudibly
and adjusted your glasses carefully
with two fingers (a fidget
I have since come to know
as a sign of mild perturbation)
the pungence of onions too finely chopped
would be simmered away. The original sharp
burning crispness could be retained
only in fairly large, bite-sized chunks.
But you wouldn't fight tradition.
I chopped onion on the counter
with the dull knife, while you set the table
and figured the best way of popping the cork.
It was on this day in 1776 that an anonymous pamphlet was published, 46 pages long, in Philadelphia. The pamphlet was called "Common Sense." It explained why the American colonies should declare independence from Great Britain. It was easy to understand, it was popular, and it rallied many people for the revolutionary cause who had not been involved before they read it.
It was written by a man who had been born and raised in England and had come to America only about a year before. He had lost his job in England, his marriage had fallen apart, he wanted a new life. In London, he happened to meet Benjamin Franklin, who suggested he move to America. That man was Thomas Paine.
"Common Sense" sold 500,000 copies in its first year after publication, at a time when about two and a half million people lived in the 13 colonies. Thomas Paine donated all the royalties to George Washington's Continental Army.
It's the birthday of the poet Philip Levine, (books by this author) born in Detroit in 1928. He was working in an auto plant when he decided to write poems about the men working around him. He said, "I took this foolish vow that I would speak for them and that's what my life would be. And sure enough I've gone and done it."
It's the birthday of the poet Robinson Jeffers, (books by this author) born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, in 1887. He moved to the coast of California and built himself an observation tower with no electricity or plumbing. And from there, he looked out at the world and wrote his poems.
It's the birthday of historian Stephen E. Ambrose, (books by this author) born in Decatur, Illinois, in 1936. He wrote a biography of Dwight Eisenhower and many best-selling history books, including Band of Brothers (1992), about World War II.
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®