Nov. 13, 2005

Making a Living

by Dana Wildsmith

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Poem: "Making a Living" by Dana Wildsmith from One Good Hand: Poems © Iris Press, Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Reprinted with permission.

Making a Living

Out here where we make our living
on a farm we won't let die,
work days last as long as I do

then while I sleep my shadow-work
goes on in dreams of you
juggling to set a roof beam, but

whichever end you aren't gripping
slips, and no one to help you hold.

Some nights my mind's dream-worker
can't find food to feed us,
or there's food but I can't reach it.

Last night while we were both asleep
I searched for paying work,
but everyone said, "Go home and finish

your jobs that need doing there." How?
Work done for love is never done.
Each evening I stow our tools
in the shed like hound pups
hot and spent. Time for them to rest

as I need rest. I wish I could believe
each day winds down to done,
each night brings perfect sleep,

but I've made the bed we lie in
with extra covers,
knowing nights can start hot, end cold,
and knowing work carried over to dreams
is one of the darker sides of our living.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Saint Augustine, born in Tagaste, Numidia (354), a part of North Africa that is now Algeria. He lived at a time when the Roman Empire was beginning to decline, and there were new religions cropping up everywhere. His mother was a Christian, but he went away to college in Carthage and got involved in a trendy new religion called Manichaeism, which taught that the universe was controlled by two equal but opposing forces, one good and one evil. When he came home from college, and his mother found out about his new pagan ways, she was so disgusted that she threw him out of the house.

After the death of his best friend and patron, Augustine fell into a deep depression. A friend gave Augustine a book of St. Paul's Epistles, and he had the book with him one day in the garden when he heard a child's voice in the street say, "Take up and read." He opened the book and the first passage he saw read, "Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ and take no care for the flesh in its desires." Augustine was instantly converted. He said, "It was as though the light of salvation had been poured into my heart."

It's the birthday of Robert Louis Stevenson, born in Edinburgh, Scotland (1850). He began to suffer from a lung disease at a very early age. His nurse stayed up with him at night when he couldn't sleep and told him all kinds of stories about ghosts and monsters and pirates. He said, "My recollections of the long nights when I was kept awake by coughing are only relieved by thoughts of the tenderness of my nurse."

His father was an engineer who specialized in building lighthouses, and Stevenson studied engineering himself until he dropped out of school and became a bohemian, hanging out with seamen, chimney-sweeps and thieves. He wanted to live a life of adventure, to sail the high seas, but his poor health forced him to move to France, where the weather was supposed to be better.

One night in France, he was passing by the window of a house when he looked inside and fell instantly in love with a woman he saw eating dinner with a group of friends. He stared at her for what seemed like hours, and then opened the window and leapt inside. The guests were shocked, but Stevenson just bowed and introduced himself. The woman was an American named Fanny Osborne. They fell in love and got married a few years later.

Marriage seemed to make Stevenson more industrious. Even though he was often bed-ridden, he published on average 400 pages of writing a year for the rest of his life. And he wrote all kinds of things: essays, political reportage, anthropology, travel writing, novels, and children's poetry.

One day in the summer of 1881, Stevenson painted a map of an imaginary island for his stepson, and the map gave him an idea for the novel Treasure Island (1883). He later wrote, "As I pored upon my map…the future characters of the book began to appear there visibly among imaginary woods; and their brown faces and bright weapons peeped out upon me from unexpected quarters, as they passed to and fro, fighting, and hunting treasure, on the few inches of a flat projection."

It's the birthday of the lawyer and associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court Louis Brandeis, born in Louisville, Kentucky (1856). He was the man who introduced the concept of a right to privacy to American law.

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




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