Sep. 9, 2002

Farming In a Lilac Shirt

by Leo Dangel

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Poem: "Farming In A Lilac Shirt," by Leo Dangel from Home From the Field: Collected Poems (Spoon River Poetry Press).

Farming in a Lilac Shirt

I opened the Sears catalog.
It was hard to decide-dress shirts
were all white the last time
I bought one, for Emma's funeral.
I picked out a color called plum,
but when the shirt arrived,
it seemed more the color of lilacs.
Still, it was beautiful.
No one I knew had a shirt like this.

After chores on Sunday, I dressed
for church. Suddenly the shirt
seemed to be a sissy color,
and I held it up near the window.
In the sun the lilac looked more lilac,
more lovely, but could a man
wear a shirt that color? Someone
might say, "That's quite the shirt."
I wore the old shirt to church.

And every Saturday night I thought,
Tomorrow I'll wear the shirt.
Such a sad terrible waste-to spend
good money on a shirt, a shirt
I even liked, and then not wear it.
I wore the shirt once, on a cold day,
and kept my coat buttoned.

In spring I began wearing the shirt
for everyday, when I was sure
no one would stop by. I wore the shirt
when I milked the cows and in the field
when I planted oats-it fit perfectly.
As I steered the John Deere,
I looked over my shoulder and saw
lilac against a blue sky
filled with white seagulls
following the tractor, and not once
did I wipe my nose on my sleeve.

It's the birthday of Otis Redding, born in Dawson, Georgia (1941). He is the man who gave us the song Sitting on the Dock of the Bay.

It's the birthday of James Hilton, the author of Goodbye, Mr. Chips, born in Leigh, Lancashire, England (1900).

It's the birthday of Colonel Harland Sanders, born in Henryville, Indiana (1890). He is the founder of the Kentucky Fried Chicken empire.

It's the birthday of Frances Cleveland who, in 1893, became the first baby to be born in the White House to a president.

It's the birthday of writer Cesare Pavese, born in 1908 in Santo Stefano Belbo, Italy. He was Italy's most prolific translator of American literature. His own creative efforts closely censored by the Fascist regime, he turned to translation as a form of expression. His own writing was influenced by American authors such as Gertrude Stein, William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, and Herman Melville.

It's the birthday of Leo Tolstoy, born in Yasnaya Polyana, Russia (1828). His most famous novels are War and Peace and Anna Karenina. He was born into a noble family dating to the 14th century, who owned a large estate, about 130 miles southwest of Moscow. His mother died early, and he was raised mostly by his grandmother and aunt. He recalled from his youth a blind storyteller that his grandfather had bought for the family as a source of entertainment. After not succeeding at the University of Kazan, he opened a school for peasant serf children to which he went through periods of great devotion. He wrote a reader for them to learn poetry from. He began writing while fighting in the army in Sevastopol during the Crimean War, and eventually retired from the army to devote himself entirely to writing. Considering himself a family man at heart, he married Sofya Andreyevna Behrs and had thirteen children. Meanwhile, he wrote his two great masterpieces. War and Peace¸ about five upper-class families and the Napoleonic war took him seven years to write, as he kept going back further and further in history. His wife was very devoted to him and it is said she copied War and Peace seven times for him. But, as he said in the opening lines of Anna Karenina, "All happy families resemble one another, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

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




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