Jul. 2, 2010

The Farm Wife Sells Her Cows

by Shari Wagner

The cats gather by my kitchen door,
rubbing ribs against a box of overshoes
and spewing curses that waver
like an organ's vibrato. I've given them
every left-over in the fridge—none of it
seems to soothe them, though when we enter
the dairy room where a sour scent still lingers
they hush and assume places, calico
sphinxes against the wall.

I switch on the radio, wait for
the first ones to lumber through—black
and white boulders—larger than you'd imagine
watching them in the field. If only
we could call them back, but by now
they must be past the beltway of Indianapolis,
peering through slats with eyes bewildered
as on the day we pulled them from their mothers.

"The Farm Wife Sells Her Cows" by Shari Wagner, from Evening Chore. © Cascadia Publishing House. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, born in Nottinghamshire, England (1489). He helped encourage England's break from Rome under King Henry VIII, which resulted in the Anglican Church, and he went to work compiling the Book of Common Prayer.

Cranmer is responsible for the wedding vow, "I take thee to my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness, and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us depart." And also the famous phrases, "What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder," and, "We therefore commit his body to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, in sure and certain hope of resurrection to eternal life."

After the death of King Henry VIII and his successor Edward VI, his daughter Mary by his first marriage became queen. She was Catholic, and she didn't think much of Thomas Cranmer, who had helped her father divorce her mother. She had him imprisoned for attacking the Catholic Church, and he was eventually burned at the stake. He signed a recantation of his sins against the Catholic Church, but at the last minute he withdrew the recantation. Cranmer stuck his hand into the flames first, because it had betrayed him by signing the recantation. There is now a statue of him in Canterbury Cathedral with a burning hand.

It's the birthday of Hermann Hesse, (books by this author) born in the town of Calw, in the Black Forest of Germany (1877). He was a bright and difficult young child, and in 1883 his father Johannes wrote: "Humiliating though it would be to us, I am nevertheless seriously wondering if we should not put him into an institution or farm him out to strangers. We are too nervous and too weak for him. ... He seems to have a gift for everything."

But his parents stuck it out. Hesse struggled through various boarding schools and secondary school. He went back home for a while and read books from his grandfather's library. Then he got a job at a bookshop in a university town in southern Germany, where he spent about four years. He was alone most of the time, writing poems, and later he published a novel, Peter Camenzind (1904), the story of a man's spiritual and poetic journey, and it did well enough that Hesse was able to write full time.

He got married, had three sons, and settled down in a lake town in the northern Alps. In 1911, he went on a trip to what are now Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and Sumatra. In general, he was disappointed by Southeast Asia, although he still exoticized the people there. He wrote of his experience: "We find the pure, simple, childlike people of paradise. But we ourselves are different; we are alien here and without any rights of citizenship; we lost our paradise long ago, and the new one that we wish to build is not to be found along the equator and on the warm seas of the East. It lies within us and in our own northern future." He came back, his marriage broke up, and he suffered a nervous breakdown. He moved by himself to a farmhouse in southern Switzerland, and 10 years after his travels in Asia, he went to work on his most famous novel, Siddhartha (1922). By the 1960s, Siddhartha attracted a cult following in America. In 10 years, 15 million copies of Hesse's works were sold in the United States, books like Steppenwolf (1927), Narcissus and Goldmund (1930), and The Glass Bead Game (1943).

It's the birthday of theater director and founder of the Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario, Tyrone Guthrie, born in Tunbridge Wells, England (1900).

After years of staging Shakespeare in London, he wanted to start a repertory theater in America as an alternative experience to Broadway — a theater with a resident acting company. He cemented his ideas along with two colleagues, Oliver Rea and Peter Zeisler, and they put a short ad in The New York Times explaining their idea and asking interested cities to apply to be the host. The seven cities that replied were Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, San Francisco, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Waltham, Massachusetts. And from that list, Guthrie chose Minneapolis/St. Paul and founded the Guthrie Theater there in 1963.

Tyrone Guthrie served as the artistic director of the Guthrie Theater for three years, until 1966, and after that he came back each year to direct a play. He died in 1971 at the age of 70.

He said, "Work can only be universal if it is rooted in a part of its creator which is most privately and particularly himself."

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