May 11, 2003

If Martha Is A Model Mother-In-Law, She Is Definitely..

by Philip Appleman

SUNDAY, 11 MAY 2003
(RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "If Martha Is A Model Mother-In-Law, She Is Definitely The Latest Model," by Philip Appleman from New and Selected Poems, 1956-1996 (University of Arkansas Press).

If Martha Is A Model Mother-In-Law, She Is Definitely The Latest Model
But Martha was cumbered about with much serving…
-Luke 10:40

They move in the sunshine of caring,
these women whose names are never
Dulcinea or Rosalind, not even Mary,
these women in sensible shoes
whose names are always Martha:
they pad through a quilted landscape
of Bibles and potted ferns,
the tinny piano in the parlor
playing rag and Rock
of Ages to the milkman's immortal horse,
and Martha is always there, singing
lullabies to the children
and mending checkered trousers
and putting on the kettle-
and things go on like that, as if
the potted ferns were paper and
the sun were embroidered onto a muslin sky,
until this particular Martha,
come from a childhood earlier than airplanes,
young with the brand-new Model T
and the women's vote, a lacy bride,
younger as Lindy hopped to Paris,
younger still with VJ Day
and men on the moon and rockets
to Mars, a lacy bride
for forty-five summers, then
watering grave chrysanthemums
on Sunday afternoons forever; after
seventy winters of starched white shirts
and ovens and diapers and needles
and pins, needles and pin, bright
with the sunshine of caring,
she's traded the horsehair loveseat in
on an air-conditioned Buick,
and her special daiquiris have come
a long way from lemon-
ade in the shade; she's not
looking back, this Martha, she's
holding a handful of aces, playing
dealer's choice with life.
And she isn't missing a trick.

Literary Notes:

It's the second Sunday in May, and that means it's Mother's Day. A woman named Anna Jarvis was the person behind the official establishment of Mother's Day. In 1912 West Virginia became the first state to adopt an official Mother's Day, and in 1914 President Woodrow Wilson made it a national holiday. Anna Jarvis became increasingly concerned over the commercialization of Mother's Day. Nevertheless, Mother's Day has become one of the best days of the year for florists. When Anna Jarvis lived the last years of her life in nursing home without a penny to her name, her bills were paid, unbeknownst to her, by the Florist's Exchange. In The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde wrote: "All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That's his."

It's the birthday of Mari Sandoz born near Hay Springs, Nebraska (1896). The frontier life prepared her to write realistic books about pioneers and Indians, books like Crazy Horse (1942), a biography of the Sioux Indian chief; The Buffalo Hunters (1954); and The Battle of the Little Bighorn (1966). She was a meticulous researcher. She wanted to see firsthand the places she wrote about -- the routes, camps, and battlefields of the Sioux, and Cheyenne. She visited reservations, slept in tents, and conducted interviews with Indians in North and South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana. Sandoz used her research in books like Cheyenne Autumn (1953) and These Were the Sioux (1961).

It's the birthday of Irving Berlin, born Israel Baline, in Russia (1888). He came to New York City with his family when he was five. When his first song, "Marie from Sunny Italy," (1907) was published, a printer's error called him Irving Berlin, and he kept the name. He went on to write more 1,500 songs, including a long list of classics like "Blue Skies," "Puttin' on the Ritz," "God Bless America," and "There's No Business Like Show Business." He said, "The toughest thing about success is that you've got to keep on being a success." He made more money from royalties than any other songwriter in history, and he guarded his copyrights fiercely. He wrote the holiday anthems ''White Christmas'' and ''Easter Parade.'' He wrote ''Something to Be Thankful For" for Thanksgiving, "Say It With Firecrackers" for the Fourth of July, ''A Little Bit of Irish,'' for St. Patrick's Day, ''Let's Start the New Year Right'' for New Year's Eve, and ''I Can't Tell a Lie'' for Washington's Birthday. As a catchall, he wrote ''Happy Holiday.'' Irving Berlin, who said, "Life is 10 percent what you make it, and 90 percent how you take it."

On this day, in 1858, the great state of Minnesota was admitted into the Union. In 1858, mothers had to know how to drive a yoke of oxen, handle a pitchfork, and churn their own butter. They should not have had to wait 56 years for an official holiday. Minnesota: it's the state that invented the stapler. It gave us water skis and roller blades. Not to mention Scotch tape, Bisquick, and the bundt pan. Tonka Trucks come from Minnetonka, Minnesota, and in 1937, Minnesota gave us Spam.

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




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show