Mar. 6, 2007


by Ted Kooser

Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Dishwater" by Ted Kooser from Delights and Shadows. © Copper Canyon Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)


Slap of the screen door, flat knock
of my grandmother's boxy black shoes
on the wooden stoop, the hush and sweep
of her knob-kneed, cotton-aproned stride
out to the edge and then, toed in
with a furious twist and heave,
a bridge that leaps from her hot red hands
and hangs there shining for fifty years
over the mystified chickens,
over the swaying nettles, the ragweed,
the clay slope down to the creek,
over the redwing blackbirds in the tops
of the willows, a glorious rainbow
with an empty dishpan swinging at one end.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Michelangelo Buonarroti, (books by this author) born in a little village in Tuscany called Caprese, 1475. He was the most famous artist in his lifetime, and in fact he was one of the first artists ever to become famous. Before Michelangelo, artists were considered mere craftsmen, and they did their work anonymously.

Michelangelo became a favorite of Lorenzo de' Medici, the ruler of Florence, and that gave him access to the Medici art collection, full of ancient Roman statues. Unlike most artists of his era, Michelangelo didn't like to use a lot of assistants, and this meant that he left a lot of his projects unfinished. In fact, he almost gave up on painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, after just a few weeks of work, because his plaster kept growing mold. It was a local architect who pointed out that Michelangelo was using too much water in his plaster mix.

Many sculptors built their works from separately sculpted pieces, but Michelangelo preferred to chisel his sculptures out of single blocks, which made his work extremely difficult, because he could make no mistakes. The block of marble he used to sculpt his statue of David was 40 feet tall.

It's the birthday of humorist and short-story writer Ring Lardner, (books by this author) born in Niles, Michigan (1885). He started working as a sports writer for a variety of papers, and eventually got a column in the Chicago Tribune and then began his career as a fiction writer with his book You Know Me Al (1916).

It's the birthday of novelist Gabriel García Márquez, (books by this author) born in Aracataca, Columbia (1928). He was in law school in 1948, when a prominent Liberal Party politician was assassinated, and the event triggered a civil war that lasted for more than 10 years. García Márquez stayed in the city to write about the violence, but a riot in his neighborhood started a fire that burned down his house, and all his manuscripts were destroyed. So he moved into a tiny room in a four-story brothel called "the Skyscraper." Márquez knew he wanted to write fiction, but he wasn't sure what to write about. Then in 1950, his mother showed up and asked him to travel back to his hometown to help her sell the family home.

The trip filled him with nostalgia and flooded his mind with memories of his childhood and the stories told to him by his grandparents. A fictional town began to take shape in his mind, based on his memories, and he knew he had to write a novel about that town. That novel became One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967), which begins, "Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice."

One Hundred Years of Solitude is now considered one of the greatest novels of the 20th century.

It was on this day in 1951 that the trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg began. They were a middle-aged, married Jewish couple, charged with conspiracy to commit espionage. Julius Rosenberg was the leader of a Communist spy ring, and he persuaded his brother-in-law to steal secrets from Los Alamos National Laboratory having to do with nuclear weapons. Those secrets were relatively minor and had little effect on the Russians' acquiring nuclear weapons, but it was strongly suggested by the government that the Rosenbergs were personally responsible for helping Communist Russia acquire the atomic bomb.

The FBI arrested Rosenberg's wife, Ethel, in hopes of forcing Julius to talk, even though was no evidence to suggest that she had any direct role in the spy ring. The main evidence in the trial came from Ethel's younger brother David Greenglass, who had worked at the Los Alamos Laboratory as a mechanical engineer. He testified that Ethel typed up the documents he provided, but he later said that this was a lie.

The trial was over in less than a month, and both Ethel and Julius were found guilty. The government offered to spare Ethel's life if Julius would make a last-minute deal to name names, but he refused to do so, and so they were both executed, one after the other, in the electric chair at Sing Sing in 1953.

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




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show