Jun. 22, 2010

Wild Game

by Richard Newman

When my great grandma Lizzie moved to town,
her husband promptly sent her to finishing school—
for none of the dainty china or fancy jewels,
house full of servants or elaborate evening gowns
smoothed her backwoods edges or prettied her mouth,
its vocabulary rich in profanity.
She circled higher circles, flattered their vanity,
but kept the dishes that made her famous in the south:

raccoon in barberry sauce, Grand Pacific Game
Pie (with woodcock or snipe), herb-roasted otter,
Spanish fricasseed rabbit garnished with roses.
It wasn't that her wildness was tamed—
Lizzie used the finishing they taught her
to sneak the savagery in under their noses.

Roast haunch of venison, roast possum
with cranberry sauce, hare pie, quail on toast
points, merckle turtle stew, and the most
famous dish of all: cherry blossom
gravy, dumplings, and beer-battered squirrel.
But even when she cooked domesticated
fare, she made it game. Neighbors hated
to watch her grab a backyard hen, twirl

it over her head, and with a snap of the wrist
launch the headless bird into the air—
to land veering like a top too tightly wound
and raining a trail of blood on the dry ground.
And though its comb went limp, the eyes would stare
accusingly from Lizzie's bloodied fist.

"Wild Game" by Richard Newman, from Borrowed Towns. © Word Press, 2005. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

On this day in 1878, Walt Whitman (books by this author) took a steamboat ride up the Hudson River and wrote a letter to his niece Hattie. He wrote: "I came up here last Thursday afternoon in the steamboat from NY — a fine day, and had a delightful journey — every thing to interest me — the constantly changing but ever beautiful panorama on both sides of the river all the way for nearly 100 miles here — the magnificent north river bay part of the shores of NY—the high straight walls of the rocky Palisades — the never-ending hills — beautiful Yonkers — the rapid succession of handsome villages and cities — the prevailing green—the great mountain sides of brown and blue rocks — the river itself — he innumerable elegant mansions in spots peeping all along through the woods and shrubbery — with the sloops and yachts, with their white sails, singly or in fleets, some near us always, some far off — etc etc etc..."

He went up for a visit with John Burroughs, who Whitman said had "plenty of strawberries, cream etc. and something I specially like, namely plenty of sugared raspberries and currants."

It's the birthday of novelist Erich Maria Remarque, (books by this author) born in Osnabrück, Germany (1898). Remarque fought for Germany on the Western Front during World War I. He suffered shrapnel wounds in one battle, and he spent the rest of the war in the hospital.

After the war, he got a job writing for a sports magazine, and he started writing All Quiet on the Western Front in his spare time. It was published in 1929. The novel is an account of World War I through the eyes of the disillusioned soldiers who fought in it. One of the characters says: "I am young, I am twenty years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair, death, fear and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow. ... We are forlorn like children, and experienced like old men, we are crude and sorrowful and superficial — I believe we are lost."

The novel was a huge success: It sold more than a million copies in Germany in less than a year, and the next year it was made into a Hollywood movie. The Nazis were rising to power in Germany at the time, and they didn't like the novel because of its negative portrayal of World War I. It was one of the books they publicly burned in 1933. In 1938, Remarque lost his German citizenship, and he eventually ended up in the United States.

It's the birthday of science fiction writer Octavia Butler, (books by this author) born in Pasadena, California (1947). She started writing when she was 10 years old. She said: "When I was 12 ... I was watching this godawful movie on television. ... It was one of those where the beautiful Martian arrives on Earth and announces that all the men on Mars have died and they need more men. None of the Earthmen want to go! And I thought, 'Geez, I can write a better story than that.'" And she went on to become a best-selling and critically acclaimed science fiction writer, one of the only African-American women in a field that is so dominated by white men. She's the author of many books, including Patternmaster (1976), Kindred (1979), and Fledgling (2005). In 1995, she received the McArthur "Genius" grant — the first science fiction writer to do so.

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