Aug. 5, 2005

One Day You'll Knock and a Stranger Will Come to the Door

by Charles Darling

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Poem: "One Day You'll Knock and a Stranger Will Come to the Door" by Charles Darling, from The Saints of Diminished Capacity. © Second Wind Press. Reprinted with permission.

"One Day you'll knock and a stranger
will come to the door
  —Linda, in Death of a Salesman

My parents write to announce—
after the predictable weather report
and brief obituary of someone I never knew—

that they're moving to Tennessee.
My sister in Knoxville has told them of forsythia
in February, of robins that punctuate the lawn

by Groundhog Day. After forty years of Lake Effect,
my parents are weary of snow.
Imagining how my father's garden

will surrender to volunteers of odds and ends,
inscrutable vegetables surprised at their
     own appearance,
I give them my blessing, thinking—as self intrudes—

yes, move while you can, and on your own.
But after they're gone, what stranger will answer
     my knock
at that door? What look will come to her face

when a bearded, absurdly tall man,
who seems close to tears, walks in and
tries to explain why tomatoes and marigolds

shoot up overnight in the lawn, why
in the fall her kitchen seems heavy with steam
     and she hears
in the night the tinkling of a hundred mason jars?

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of one of the great French short story writers Guy de Maupassant, born in Normandy (1850). In just ten years, in his 30s, he wrote most of the work for which we remember him, including 300 stories and five novels.

It's the birthday of the poet and novelist Conrad Aiken, Savannah, Georgia (1889). When he was just 11, his father shot Aiken's mother and then himself. Aiken wrote about it in his autobiography Ushant. He wrote, "After the desultory early-morning quarrel, came the half-stifled scream, and the sound of [my] father's voice counting three, and the two loud pistol shots and [I] tiptoed into the dark room, where the two bodies lay motionless, and apart, and, finding them dead, found [myself] possessed of them forever."

It's the birthday of Wendell Berry, born in Port Royal, Kentucky (1934). He grew up on farmland that had been in his family since 1803. His great grandparents and grandparents had lived and farmed in the area. He learned how to plow with a team of mules, no tractors. Wendell Berry said, "I began my life as the old times and the last of the old-time people were dying out ... If I had been born five years later I would have begun in a different world, and would no doubt have become a different man."

Wendell Berry had an uncle who he described as "an inspired tinkerer with broken gadgetry and furniture ... and a teller of wonderful bedtime stories," And his uncle had a cabin up in the woods, and Berry often went up there as a kid to get away from everything, when he was feeling melancholic and rebellious.

He went away to school at a military academy, went on to college, and graduate school. He lived in California, Italy, and New York City but never stopped thinking about that place in Kentucky. He often went back to that old cabin of his uncle's. He decided to restore it and turn it into a writer's retreat, and that was the beginning of Wendell Berry's decision to move back to the area permanently and to write his poems and fiction and essays about farm life and farming communities.

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




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