Jul. 2, 2004


by Leland Kinsey

FRIDAY, 2 JULY, 2004
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Poem: "Dugouts," by Leland Kinsey, from Sledding on Hospital Hill. © David R. Godine. Reprinted with permission.


For a time my brother and I fashioned
dugouts in several places about the farm.
With our father's pick and two old spades
we dug small square rooms.
Any furniture was made
of immovable outcroppings. Traced
on the walls, runic signs.
Over the dugouts we carefully placed
sticks, boards, boughs, sod,
to disguise them, and hid them
well enough so once a heifer trod
onto one and fell through.
We were not in it, and she wasn't long,
scrambling up our trued
walls with difficulty. Our father stood
akimbo, surveying our almost subterranean
abode, laughed and said we would
have to stop setting traps about.
We learned that he himself had built
versions of such childhood redoubts
on his mother's land.
A runaway lake of local history
had deposited deep beds of sand
that he dug shelters in. Shale
was what my brother and I mostly quarried.
The thin topsoil was a frail
structure from which to depend a farm.
Why we dug I do not know, stories
of breastworks or trenches, or fearing harm
from atomic bombs, or some of all
these things; and our father
listening on the radio to bombs fall
on London, and news of bunkers.
Any of this I suppose would make
children want to hunker
down, dig down. Grandmother's hired man, disgusted,
had buried his old pickup in a sand pit.
We boys wanted to dig down to its rusted
hulk and have at once vehicle and place.
When mother read us the myths,
we thought how fun to race
to old Hades' door in a Ford V-8,
and after going so far down,
turn and spin hot rocks at Fate,
rise completely up, and laugh about surviving.
State engineers drilled test holes
for rebuilding a nearby bridge for arriving
lumber-laden trucks, found a dozen feet
of hardpan over sixty of flowing sand
left by the huge lake from the glaciers' retreat.
They said they couldn't pump the casing
clear to find bedrock. We didn't care
to dig any more. The earth had seem embracing,
now seemed as fluid and insubstantial as the air.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1961 that Ernest Hemingway committed suicide. He was living with his wife in Ketchum, Idaho, and shot himself in the head with a shotgun. His father had also killed himself, and Ernest suffered from depression his entire life. He once wrote, "Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. [The writer] grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates."

It's the birthday of Hermann Hesse, born in Calw, Germany (1877). He's the author of many novels including Siddhartha (1922) and Steppenwolf (1929).

It's the birthday of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, born in Nottinghamshire, England (1489). The greatest achievement of his life was his work compiling The Book of Common Prayer, which was a collection of English prayers that would be said at all kinds of church ceremonies, from masses and funerals to baptisms and weddings. Cranmer didn't write or translate all the prayers from Latin himself, but he picked what he liked best about the existing translations and stitched them together. The Book of Common Prayer has had an enormous influence on written and spoken English.

Cranmer is responsible for the wedding vow, "I take thee to my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness, and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us depart."

Today is the anniversary of an important day in the history of American paranoia: On this day in 1947 an object supposedly fell from the sky over Roswell, New Mexico. In the late 1940s, there were a lot of newspaper and radio reports about sightings of disk-like objects in the sky. There were at least sixteen alleged sightings between May 17 and July 12, 1947. In one story, a businessman saw nine objects flying over a mountain while he was piloting his private plane. In an interview, he described the objects as flying like a saucer skipping across water, and the term "flying-saucer" was born.

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