Aug. 23, 2009

Vegetable Love

by Barbara Crooker

Feel a tomato, heft its weight in your palm,
think of buttocks, breasts, this plump pulp.
And carrots, mud clinging to the root,
gold mined from the earth's tight purse.
And asparagus, that push their heads up,
rise to meet the returning sun,
and zucchini, green torpedoes
lurking in the Sargasso depths
of their raspy stalks and scratchy leaves.
And peppers, thick walls of cool jade, a green hush.
Secret caves. Sanctuary.
And beets, the dark blood of the earth.
And all the lettuces: bibb, flame, oak leaf, butter-
crunch, black-seeded Simpson, chicory, cos.
Elizabethan ruffs, crisp verbiage.
And spinach, the dark green
of northern forests, savoyed, ruffled,
hidden folds and clefts.
And basil, sweet basil, nuzzled
by fumbling bees drunk on the sun.
And cucumbers, crisp, cool white ice
in the heart of August, month of fire.
And peas in their delicate slippers,
little green boats, a string of beads,
repeating, repeating.
And sunflowers, nodding at night,
then rising to shout hallelujah! at noon.

All over the garden, the whisper of leaves
passing secrets and gossip, making assignations.
All of the vegetables bask in the sun,
languorous as lizards.
Quick, before the frost puts out
its green light, praise these vegetables,
earth's voluptuaries,
praise what comes from the dirt.

"Vegetable Love" by Barbara Crooker, from Radiance. © Word Press, 2005. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It was on this day in 1927 that Bartolomeo Vanzetti and Nicola Sacco were executed in Massachusetts on charges of robbery and murder. They were Italian-born anarchists, Vanzetti a fish peddler and Sacco a shoemaker, both active in workers' rights organizing and protests. They pleaded not guilty, and even at the time of their trial, many believed that Sacco and Vanzetti were innocent of the crime for which they were convicted — that they were executed for their political beliefs as anarchists and advocates of violent tactics, and that their Italian ethnicity worked against them. Dorothy Parker, Upton Sinclair, and H.G. Wells tried to get them a retrial because they thought the justice system was unfair to the men.

The case continues to baffle historians, and no one has managed to prove definitively one way or the other whether Vanzetti and Sacco were guilty or innocent.

It was on this day in 1939 that the governments of Germany and the Soviet Union signed the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact. It meant that Hitler would not have to fight on two fronts if he went to war and invaded Poland. Publicly, the Soviet Union was promising to stay out of things if Hitler went to war. Privately, in the "secret protocol," Germany agreed to give Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and part of Poland to the Soviet Union in exchange for their cooperation. Just over one week later — on September 1st — Germany invaded Poland.

The pact shocked many people, including American communists. It was the era of the "Popular Front" for American communists, a spirit of cooperation between communists and the New Deal liberals, united behind workers' rights and an opposition to fascism. Communists particularly had been firmly anti-fascist, denouncing Hitler at a time when many Americans were still reluctant to do so. By 1938, there were 75,000 registered members of the CPUSA (Communist Party USA), plus 20,000 members of the Young Communist League. Prominent party members were active in American cultural and intellectual life, people like Richard Wright, Peter Seeger, and Dashiell Hammett.

But after the CPUSA declared its official support of the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, many party members were torn between their allegiance to the Soviet Union and their opposition of fascism. By 1941, the CPUSA was down to 55,000 members; many of them had quit in frustration over the party's support of the pact.

And it's the birthday of Edgar Lee Masters, (books by this author) born in Garnett, Kansas (1868). He grew up in small farming towns in Illinois, and he wanted to write a novel about growing up in Illinois, but he didn't know where to start. Then the editor of a poetry magazine sent him a book of poems called Selected Epigrams from the Greek Anthology, epigrams from classical Greece, many of them about the details of daily life and ordinary people. So Masters took that idea, and he wrote Spoon River Anthology (1915), in which residents of a small Illinois town called Spoon River speak from beyond the grave and tell their life stories, more than 200 characters in all. The same editor who had sent Masters the book of epigrams serialized the poems from Spoon River in his journal, and then they were published as a book, and it became a huge success.

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