Dec. 11, 2002

Stories My Grandmother Told

by J. L. Conrad

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Poem: "Stories My Grandmother Told," by J.L. Conrad from A Cartography of Birds Poems (Louisiana State University Press).

Stories My Grandmother Told


Lights in the barn. She was milking the cows. Alone with warm udders
and liquid hissing earthward. Lights throwing cow-head shadows across
her face and slats of straw. Then, no lights. It must be the brothers.
Afraid, taking the back way into the house, calling Marion? Marion? He
answered from the kitchen, had not traveled house to barn. Assured her.


The fruitroom with rows of peaches, pears, green beans. Viewed
through sides of glass jars, damp and saturated by earth-scent. There
were men whose stealth led them silently through basement windows,
leaving evidence: empty jars, trails of half-eaten fruit.


The doctor had sent her father home to die. Blood poisoning in the
leg. He sat in the room refusing to go. Waking one night, saw a leg
through the window, a hand reaching in. The chair-side bell rang fever-
ishly, whispering danger. The leg withdrew; the brothers came. Saw a
running figure, knife in hand. The stranger was sent by the doctor,
they decided. To make sure his time had really come.

On this day in 1882, a production of Gilbert and Sullivan's "Iolanthe" at Boston's Bijou Theatre became the first performance in a theater to be lit by incandescent electric lights.

It's the birthday of poet and novelist Jim Harrison, born in Grayling, Michigan (1937). He is well known for his best-selling novel, Legends of the Fall (1977), but he's also published nine collections of poetry. He said, "I'm a poet and we tend to err on the side that life is more than it appears rather than less."

It's the birthday of Grace Paley, poet and short-story writer, born in the Bronx, New York City (1922). Her collections include The Little Disturbances of Man (1959), Enormous Changes at the Last Minute (1974), and Later the Same Day (1985).

It's the birthday of Russian novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, born in Kislovodsk, Russia (1918). He won the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize and is best known for One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1962) and The Gulag Archipelago, both of which caused him great trouble with the Russian government. He was eventually exiled, and did not return to Russia until the age of 76.

It's the birthday of Egyptian novelist, playwright, and short-story writer Naguib Mahfouz, born in Cairo (1911). He was the first Arabic writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature (1988). He has written over thirty novels, most of them set in the Jamaliyaa quarter of Cairo, where he grew up. He is still a columnist at the Al-Ahram newspaper based in Cairo.

It's the birthday of novelist Thomas McGuane, born in Wyandotte, Michigan (1939). His most famous novels include The Sporting Club (1969), The Bushwhacked Piano (1971), and Nobody's Angel (1982).

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




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