May 27, 2005

Abandoned Farmhouse

by Ted Kooser

FRIDAY, 27 MAY, 2005
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Poem: "Abandoned Farmhouse" by Ted Kooser from Flying at Night: Poems 1965-1985. © University of Pittsburgh Press. Reprinted with permission.

Abandoned Farmhouse

He was a big man, says the size of his shoes
on a pile of broken dishes by the house;
a tall man too, says the length of the bed
in an upstairs room; and a good, God-fearing man,
says the Bible with a broken back
on the floor below the window, dusty with sun;
but not a man for farming, say the fields
cluttered with boulders and the leaky barn.

A woman lived with him, says the bedroom wall
papered with lilacs and the kitchen shelves
covered with oilcloth, and they had a child,
says the sandbox made from a tractor tire.
Money was scarce, say the jars of plum preserves
and canned tomatoes sealed in the cellar hole.
And the winters cold, say the rags in the window frames.
It was lonely here, says the narrow country road.

Something went wrong, says the empty house
in the weed-choked yard. Stones in the fields
say he was not a farmer; the still-sealed jars
in the cellar say she left in a nervous haste.
And the child? Its toys are strewn in the yard
like branches after a storm-a rubber cow,
a rusty tractor with a broken plow,
a doll in overalls. Something went wrong, they say.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Dashiell Hammett, born in 1894 in St. Mary's County, Maryland. He gave us the detective Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon. It came out in 1930, and a few years later Hammett published The Thin Man.

It's the birthday of Rachel Carson, born in Springdale, Pennsylvania (1907). She became a biologist, took a job at the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries, and in 1951 published a very elegant book called The Sea Around Us, which became a national best-seller. It was followed in 1962 by Silent Spring, which raised a great national controversy about herbicides and pesticides and, particularly, DDT.

It's the birthday of Hubert H. Humphrey, born in Wallace, South Dakota in 1911. He ran for the Senate in 1948, in Minnesota, at a time when the Democratic Party was split between southern conservatives who supported segregation and liberals in the north who supported civil rights.

He was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention where everyone was worried that a civil rights plank might cost Harry Truman the presidential election in the fall. They felt that Truman needed to carry the south. Hubert Humphrey said, "For me personally and for the party, the time had come to suffer whatever the consequences." And so he brought a civil rights plank up for a vote on the convention floor and gave a speech on behalf of it. It was a short speech for Hubert Humphrey. It lasted only eight minutes—just 37 sentences long—in which he said, "Our land is now, more than ever before, the last best hope on earth. I know that we can begin here the fuller and richer realization of that hope."

He was elected to the senate in the fall and Harry Truman won against Thomas Dewey.

It's the birthday of novelist and short story writer John Cheever, born in Quincy, Massachusetts in 1912. He was the author of many volumes of short stories that combined realism and magic. He also wrote novels, and chronicled his thoughts in journals. In his journals, published in 1991, he wrote, "The world, if it was not mine yesterday, now lies spread out at my feet, a splendor. I seem, in the middle of the night, to have returned to the world of apples, the orchards of heaven."

It's the birthday of novelist John Barth, born in Cambridge, Maryland (1930), author of The Floating Opera and many other books.

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