Nov. 20, 2009

Farley, Iowa

by Christopher Wiseman

The farm is gone. The Comer farm is gone.
Your mother's brother, Uncle Joe, has sold it.
He's old now and his kids don't want to farm,
Have different lives in towns. He has coins, too,
From Somerset. His grandfather's. We sit for the last
Time in the farm kitchen, driven for days
To get here before he finally moves out,
Summer lightning starting, the way it does,
The evening air heavy, full of growth.
Joe will move. There's sadness in us all.
And you, my wife, drinking all of this in,
Talking about our children, asking Joe
About the Iowa you left, the people,
The whole big thing that was your life, your childhood.
You used to bike here, on the gravel roads,
From Cascade, for lemonade and ice cream, to see
The barns, the animals. Back in the fifties.
He got to here from Somerset, that man.
Joe talks about the richness of the soil,
Blizzards, tornadoes, heat beyond belief,
Guesses about ships and wagons, breaking the land,
Clearing stones from grass. His grandfather.
What will you do without the farm, you ask him.
I'll be fine, he says. Live somewhere else.

"Farley, Iowa" by Christopher Wiseman, from the longer poem "Standing by Stones" from Crossing the Salt Flats. © The Porcupine's Quill, 1999. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of South African novelist Nadine Gordimer, (books by this author) born in Springs, South Africa (1923). She's the author of more than a dozen short-story collections and more than a dozen novels, most of which explore the issue of race in her homeland of South Africa. She was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1991, and has served as a member of the African National Congress. She has said: "People make the mistake of regarding commitment as something solely political. A writer is committed to trying to make sense of life. It's a search. So there is that commitment first of all: the commitment to the honesty and determination to go as deeply into things as possible, and to dredge up what little bit of truth you with your talent can then express."

It's the birthday of the novelist Don DeLillo, (books by this author) born in New York City (1936). He lived in Europe for a while in the early 1980s, and when he got back to the United States, he was overwhelmed by how strange America suddenly seemed. He decided to write a novel to try to capture that strangeness and the result was White Noise (1984), which became his first big success. It's the story of Jack Gladney, a college professor who spends much of his free time thinking about TV commercials, tabloid magazines, and supermarkets.

DeLillo wrote: "This is where we wait together, regardless of age, our carts stocked with brightly colored goods. A slowly moving line, satisfying, giving us time to glance at the tabloids in the racks. Everything we need that is not food or love is here in the tabloid racks. The tales of the supernatural and the extraterrestrial. The miracle vitamins, the cures for cancer, the remedies for obesity. The cults of the famous and the dead."

Don DeLillo said, "I've never thought about myself in terms of a career. … I don't have a career, I have a typewriter."

It's the birthday of the first person born to English Pilgrims in the New World, Peregrine White, born at Provincetown Harbor (1620), the place in Massachusetts where the Mayflower first anchored before proceeding on to Plymouth. His name means "one who journeys to foreign lands" or "pilgrim." His parents had come over on the Mayflower along with his older brother, then five years old, named Resolved.

Their father died shortly after the Mayflower reached land, and Peregrine was adopted by his stepfather. He lived to be 83 years old.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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