Sep. 18, 2010

Lester Tells of Wanda and the Big Snow

by Paul Zimmer

Some years back I worked a strip mine
Out near Tylersburg. One day it starts
To snow and by two we got three feet.
I says to the foreman, "I'm going home."
He says, ''Ain't you stayin' till five?"
I says, "I got to see to my cows,"
Not telling how Wanda was there at the house.
By the time I make it home at four
Another foot is down and it don't quit
Until it lays another. Wanda and me
For three whole days seen no one else.
We tunneled the drifts and slid
Right over the barbed wire, laughing
At how our heartbeats melted the snow.
After a time the food was gone and I thought
I'd butcher a cow, but then it cleared
And the moon come up as sweet as an apple.
Next morning the ploughs got through. It made us sad.
It don't snow like that no more. Too bad.

"Lester Tells of Wanda and the Big Snow" by Paul Zimmer, from Crossing to Sunlight Revisited. © University of Georgia Press, 2007. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of novelist and short-story writer William March, (books by this author) born Edward March Campbell in Mobile, Alabama (1893), who served and was wounded in World War I. He is best known for his first and last novels, Company K (1933) and The Bad Seed (1954). After its initial publication, The Bad Seed went on to become a best-seller, a wildly successful Broadway show, and a Warner Brothers film.

It's the birthday of the poet Alberto Álvaro Ríos, (books by this author) born in 1952 in Nogales, Arizona, a town on the border of the United States and Mexico. His books of poems include Whispering to Fool the Wind (1982) and The Smallest Muscle in the Human Body (2002).

It was on this day in 1851 that the first edition of The New York Times was published. Its original name was The New-York Daily Times, and each copy cost one cent. The founder and editor was Henry Jarvis Raymond.

It's the birthday of Samuel Johnson, (books by this author) born in Lichfield, England (1709). When he was 54 years old, he was in the back parlor of his friend Tom Davies' bookshop in London, and he was introduced to a 23-year-old Scotsman named James Boswell, who had been trying to meet Johnson for quite a while. Johnson was intensely suspicious of Scottish people, and found Boswell annoying. But eventually they became good friends.

For years, Boswell kept notes on Johnson's mannerisms, habits, decisions, thoughts, appearance, and everything about his life. In the meantime, Samuel Johnson had a great career. He wrote essays and sketches for magazines, poems, and biographies. And then a group of publishers asked him to create a definitive dictionary of the English language, and he accepted the challenge. The French equivalent, compiled by the Académie Française, was slated to take 40 years and was being created by 40 scholars. The French took six years just to work on the letter "G." In contrast, Johnson announced that he could single-handedly do the entire project in three years.

He didn't manage it quite that fast — it took him seven years — and he did have six mechanical assistants. But it was still a huge undertaking. Published in 1755, it had more than 42,000 entries.

Johnson's dictionary made him famous, and it is his most long-lasting achievement. But he is best remembered not for anything he wrote, but for the biography that Boswell wrote about him. Published after its subject's death, Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) is considered the precursor to modern biographies because it was the first to truly describe its subject as a whole person, not just a catalog of achievements and events.

It's the birthday of poet Paul Zimmer, (books by this author) born in Canton, Ohio (1934). Growing up, he wanted to be a catcher for the Cleveland Indians. After high school, he was drafted into the Army, where he was sent to the Nevada desert to witness atomic bomb tests. He said: "Frightened, lonely, and bored by mindlessness, I discovered that I like to read. At first it was fiction and popular history, but then I found poetry. I was fascinated by how poets use words. Sometimes the words were obscure, but always sensitive, intelligent, and challenging, far more impressive than the words of journalists, politicians, or glib popular writers. Eventually I began scribbling my own verse and kept it on soiled papers in my shirt pocket, slipping off to the edge of the platoon during smoke breaks to write on my little sheets. If anyone asked what I was doing, I said I was writing a letter to my girlfriend. In fact, if I showed my poems to anyone, it was to girls. Usually they thought I was strange, but sometimes they were impressed."

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