Oct. 11, 2006

Onion, Fruit of Grace

by Julia Kasdorf

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Poem: "Onion, Fruit of Grace" by Julia Kasdorf from Eve's Striptease. © University of Pittsburg Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Onion, Fruit of Grace

Onion, fruit of grace,
you swell in the garden
hidden as the heart of God,
but you are not about religion.
Onion, frying into all those Os,
you are a perfect poet,
and you are not about that.
Onion, I love you,
you sleek, auburn beauty,
you break my heart though
I know you don't mean
to make me cry.

Peeling your paper skin,
I cry. Chopping you,
I cry. Slicing off
your wiry roots,
I cry like a penitent
at communion, onion.
Tasting grace, layer by layer,
I eat your sweet heart
that burns like the Savior's.
The sun crust you pull on
while you're still underground,

I've peeled it.
Onion, I'm eating
God's tears.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of novelist Elmore Leonard, (books by this author) born in New Orleans (1925). His father worked for General Motors, and the family traveled around a lot until they finally settled in Detroit, where he still lives with his wife, and with his children and grandchildren nearby. He said, "I live in Detroit because I like it [and] because I know the names of all the streets."

After college, Leonard decided he would write Westerns or detective novels, depending on which made more money. He sold his first Western for $1,000 and quickly churned out eight more, including the popular Hombre (1961). Then in the '60s, Westerns became less popular, so he switched to detective fiction. It took a while for him to be successful. To support his wife and five children, he worked in advertising and for the Encyclopedia Britannica, working on his novels every morning between 5:00 and 7:00 a.m. By 1983, he had written 23 novels, including Fifty-Two Pickup (1974), Stick (1983), and La Brava (1984). In 1995, his book Get Shorty was turned into a movie starring John Travolta. And the movie Jackie Brown, directed by Quentin Tarantino, was based on his book Rum Punch (1992).

Elmore Leonard said about his writing, "I leave out the parts that people skip."

It's the birthday of the French writer François (Charles) Mauriac, (books by this author) born in Bordeaux (1885). He made it his mission to write about Bordeaux—a vine-growing, pastoral region of France—and he used it as the setting for most of his novels. He became famous for his book A Kiss for the Leper (1922), about a wealthy but hideous man whose life is destroyed by an arranged marriage to a beautiful peasant woman. He also wrote The Desert of Love (1925), Thérèse (1927), and The Knot of Vipers (1932).

He was part of a long tradition of French Roman Catholic writers who explored the problems of good and evil in the world and in human nature. People thought his writing was dark and his characters were somber, but he didn't always agree. He said, "The serpents in my books have been noticed, but not the doves that have made their nests in more than one chapter."

On the eve of World War II, he spoke out against the Germans in a French newspaper he started, and he had to hide out during part of the war for his anti-German views. In the 1950s, he sided with Charles de Gaulle in his opposition to colonial policies in Morocco, and he condemned torture in Algeria by the French army. In 1952, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. He said, "I believe that only poetry counts. A great novelist is first of all a great poet."

It's the birthday of (Anna) Eleanor Roosevelt, born into a prominent, wealthy family in New York City (1884). Her father was in ill health and an alcoholic. Her mother was famous in New York for her striking beauty, and she made Eleanor feel bad about her appearances, calling her "granny" and "very plain." Eleanor said, "I was a solemn child without beauty. I seemed like a little old woman entirely lacking in the spontaneous joy and mirth of youth." She was close for a time with her father, but by the age of 10 she was an orphan. She went off to live with her grandmother, and then to a school in London. While there, she was inspired by her headmistress, who was passionately devoted to liberal causes and social justice.

One day on a train to Tivoli, where Eleanor's grandmother lived, she bumped into Franklin Delano Roosevelt, her distant cousin, and the two began a secret courtship that ended in marriage in 1905. She had six children with FDR, one of whom died in infancy. She was an active wife and mother, but also a volunteer for social causes. Her husband was Assistant Secretary of the Navy during World War I, and Eleanor accompanied him, expecting to do nothing more than support her husband. But she found herself taking an active role, working for the Red Cross and visiting wounded and shell-shocked troops in the Naval Hospital. She was appalled at the state of the hospitals and demanded that the government inspect the poor conditions affecting the sailors.

In 1921, FDR contracted polio and was permanently paralyzed from the waist down. Eleanor got even more involved in politics, joining various women's rights organizations of the 1920s. She tried to make up for her husband's disability by traveling around and meeting with important people whom her husband had trouble reaching. He was elected president in 1933, and Eleanor continued to be actively involved as the First Lady. Franklin and Eleanor were both champions of the disadvantaged. But at times Eleanor was even more adamant than her husband. She supported anti-lynching laws that her husband did not, and she wrote a confidential letter to the NAACP expressing frustration that her husband and Congress weren't complying.

In 1933, she was the first president's wife to give her own press conference. In 1936, she began writing a daily syndicated newspaper column as a means to advance communication between the president and the public. People loved her and called her "the first lady of the world." Franklin died in 1945, and Eleanor became a delegate to the United Nations and chaired the Human Rights Commission as they drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Eleanor Roosevelt said, "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."

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