Apr. 28, 2009

That Time of Year

by Philip Appleman

So April's here, with all these soggy showers,
Making us almost long for March again,
As every twiglet makes a play for flowers
And every hack for miles picks up a pen,
Girls all playing hankypank, not soccer,
The smell of oozing sap all over town,
Teenage boys completely off their rocker,
And rutting rabbits diddling farmer Brown.

We're in for it now, nothing to be done:
Loving's what we wanted, what we got.
At least we're going to have a little fun—
With any luck, we're going to have a lot.
Thirty days hath April: seize the day!
Don't trust to luck for darling buds in May.

"That Time of Year" by Philip Appleman, from Karma, Dharma, Pudding & Pie. © Quantuck Lane Press, 2009. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Harper Lee, (books by this author) born Nelle Harper in Monroeville, Alabama (1926). She's the author of To Kill a Mockingbird (1960).

She wrote, "Mockingbirds don't do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don't eat up people's gardens, don't nest in corncribs, they don't do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird."

It's the birthday of poet Carolyn Forché, (books by this author) born in Detroit (1950). She grew up in a rural Catholic area. She lived in the same house for almost all of her childhood, with her parents and Czech grandmother, and attended school with the same 82 students for 12 years. Her family was devout, and they lived by the liturgical calendar. But once she left home for college, she had a nomadic lifestyle. She traveled to Europe and Central America; she spent time in Belfast during "The Troubles" and in South Africa during apartheid. Then she became an itinerant professor in the United States. She thought she must have inherited her nomadic nature from her Czech grandmother, who had left Slovakia at age 11 and worked in a needle factory to pay for her parents to come to America. While Forché was growing up, her grandmother would disappear for six or eight weeks at a time, and when she got home, she would explain that she was staying with Mennonites, Native Americans, or various other people she had somehow met.

Carolyn Forché published her first poetry collection, Gathering the Tribes (1976), when she was 26, and it won the Yale Younger Poets Award. The next year she went to Spain to translate the work of an exiled Salvadorian poet, and from there to El Salvador to work as a human rights activist with Amnesty International.

She was in El Salvador during its civil war, and she encountered horrific things there. One day, she went to a prison where political dissidents were held. Inside, she met with the young prisoner who would serve as her guide, and she saw that he was ill and had a phlebitic leg. She realized then that if his leg wasn't treated, he would die. She made it out of the gruesome prison and started vomiting because she was so upset. She went straight to a meeting with a group of young Salvadorian poets. The driver took her to a dark slum and disappeared, and she was alone, covered in her own vomit and crying. Finally, a young man approached her and apologized for the delay, explaining that his wife had just had a baby. She went upstairs and found the newborn wrapped in blankets, lying in a cardboard box, and the group of young poets gathered around the infant and the happy mother. Forché said to herself: "I'm never going to be tired again. I'm never going to say I need a shower again. These people are risking their lives every day." In 1981, she published her second poetry collection, The Country Between Us, about her experiences in El Salvador. Her third collection, The Angel of History (1994), won the L.A. Times Book Award.

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