Jun. 16, 2005


by Richard E. McMullen

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Poem: "ONE TIME MY DAD" by Richard E. McMullen from Not Only Love. © Crowfoot Press. Reprinted with permission.


One time my dad said to me, I don't
see why people complain about how hard they work
or how tired they are. Nobody works hard but
farmers, miners, lumberjacks and foundry workers.
This was before power tools, tractors, and such things, and all
the work was done by hand. When farmers in Upstate New York
left to get away from the stones, what
they found in Southern Michigan were: more stones.
As they cleared the land, the horses hauled the black walnut trees
and stumps to the side of the field and the farmers burned them.
Black walnut was no good to them, too hard to work.
Grandpa Conde, when he finally left the farm and moved
to Milan, got a job in the foundry and walked to work
and back, six days a week, 12 hours
a day, for 50 cents a day. He thought
he was sitting pretty. Whenever the noon whistle blew, people
would say, Well, Hell's out for lunch. But he would sit
down in a cool place and eat his lunch.
Once, when she was a little girl, Aunt Ida
asked her father, who was working in his garden, why
he worked so hard and wasn't he tired? Grandpa
straightened up from his hoeing and answered: I never get tired.

Literary and Historical Notes:

Today is Bloomsday, the day on which the action in James Joyce's novel Ulysses takes place in 1904. Leopold Bloom, the main character of Ulysses, does not have much work to do, so he spends most of his day wandering around Dublin doing some errands. He leaves his house on Eccles Street, walks south across the River Liffey, picks up a letter, buys a bar of soap, and goes to the funeral of a man he didn't know very well. In the afternoon, he has a cheese sandwich, he feeds the gulls in the river, helps a blind man cross the street, and visits a couple of pubs. He thinks about his job, his wife, his daughter, his stillborn son. He muses about life and death and reincarnation. He knows that his wife is going to cheat on him that afternoon at his house. In the evening, he wanders around the red light district of Dublin and meets up with a young writer named Stephen Dedalus, who is drunk. Leopold Bloom takes him home with him and offers to let him spend the night. And they stand outside, looking at the stars for a while. And then Bloom goes inside and climbs into bed with his wife.

It's the birthday of Joyce Carol Oates, born in Lockport, New York (1938). She is one of the most prolific writers anywhere, having published almost 100 books in 40 years. She's written novels, short stories, plays, poetry, and essays. She was born into a hardworking, rural family. Her parents were poor and uneducated, but both of them had artistic leanings. Her father came home from a tool-and-die shop and played piano in the evenings.

She went to school in a one-room schoolhouse, and when she was eight, her grandmother gave her a copy of Alice in Wonderland, which she loved so much, she memorized the whole book word for word. She went to a good high school in a suburb of Buffalo and became the first member of her family to get a high school diploma.

She started writing novels when she was in high school. In the late '60s, she started publishing her most famous novels, including Them, Bellefleur and We Were the Mulvaneys.

It was Joyce Carol Oates who said, "We [humans] are the species that clamors to be lied to."

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