Mar. 15, 2010
For Henry and Irene Spruill
My great grandfather had some fields in North Carolina
and he willed those fields to his sons and his sons
willed them to their sons so there is a two-hundred-year-old
farm house on that land where several generations
of my family fried chicken and laughed and hung
their laundry beneath the trees. There are things you
know when your family has lived close to the earth:
things that make magic seem likely. Dig a hole on the new
of the moon and you will have dirt to throw away
but dig one on the old of the moon and you won't have
enough to fill it back up again: I learned this trick
in the backyard of childhood with my hands. If you know
the way the moon pulls at everything then you can feel
it on the streets of a city where you cannot see the sky.
My mother says the moon is like a man: it changes
its mind every eight days and you plant nothing
until its risen full and high. If you plant corn when
the signs are in the heart you will get black spots
in your grain and if you meet a lover when the
signs are in the feet he will never take you dancing.
When the signs are in the bowels you must not plant
or your seed will rot and if you want to make a baby
you must undress under earth or water. I am the one
in the post office who buys stamps when the signs
are in the air so my mail will learn to fly. I stand in my
front yard, in the suburbs, and wish for luck and
money on the new of the moon when there
are many black nights. I may walk the streets
of this century and make my living in an office
but my blood is old farming blood and my true
self is underground like a potato. At the opera
I will think of rainfall and vines. In my dreams
all my corn may grow short but the ears will be
full. If you kiss my forehead on a dark moon
in March I may disappear—but do not be afraid—
I have taken root in my grandfather's
fields: I am hanging my laundry beneath his trees.
In Shakespeare's Julius Caesar,the soothsayer was referring to today when she said, "Beware the Ides of March." The word "Ides" was just a shorthand way of saying "15th," at least in March.
And it was on this day, the Ides of March in 44 B.C., that Caesar was assassinated by a group of about 60 conspirators who called themselves "the liberators." They wanted to return Rome to a model republic, and they were unhappy with how Caesar had consolidated power in his name, and that he encouraged people to consider him divine. One of the leaders was Marcus Brutus, whose mother had been one of Caesar's lovers and whom Caesar helped establish in government.
It's the birthday of novelist Ben Okri, (books by this author) born in Minna, Nigeria (1959). His many novels include The Famished Road (1991), which won the Booker Prize, Dangerous Love (1996), and most recently, Starbook (2007) and Tales of Freedom (2009).
He said: "I realized you cannot evoke a place truly till you find a tone, a narrative, in tune with the dimensions of that place. You can't use Jane Austen to tell stories about Africa."
It's the birthday of literary critic and biographer Richard Ellmann, (books by this author) born in Highland Park, Michigan (1918). His parents were immigrants from Eastern Europe. He went to Yale and decided to do his dissertation on W.B. Yeats, who had just died and who, as Ellmann put it, "seemed at that time a subject suspiciously and brazenly modern." But he chose Yeats anyway, and was partway done with his dissertation when World War II began, and he left to join the Army. While he was stationed in London, he took a vacation and went to visit George Yeats, the poet's wife, who greeted him warmly and happily shared stories of her husband and granted Ellmann numerous interviews. He published Yeats: The Man and the Masks in 1948 and went on to write biographies of James Joyce and Oscar Wilde. Oscar Wilde (1989) won the Pulitzer Prize, and Anthony Burgess called James Joyce (1959) "the greatest literary biography of the century."
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®