May 12, 2012

A Romance for the Wild Turkey

by Paul Zimmer

They are so cowardly and stupid
Indians would not eat them
For fear of assuming their qualities.

The wild turkey always stays close
To home, flapping up into trees
If alarmed, then falling out again.
When shot it explodes like a balloon
Full of blood. It bathes by grinding
Itself in coarse dirt, is incapable
Of passion or anger, knows only
Vague innocence and extreme caution,
Walking around in underbrush
Like a cantilevered question mark,
Retreating at least hint of danger.

I hope when the wild turkey
Dreams at night it flies high up
In gladness under vast islands
Of mute starlight, its silhouette
Vivid in the full moon, guided always
By radiant configurations, high
Over chittering fields of corn
And the trivial fires of men,
Never to land again nor be regarded
As fearful, stupid, and unsure.

"A Romance for the Wild Turkey" by Paul Zimmer, from Crossing to Sunlight Revisited. © The University of Georgia Press, 2007. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today is the birthday of Canadian author and conservationist Farley Mowat (books by this author), born in Belleville, Ontario (1921). He had numerous pets as a kid: the usual cats and dogs, but also a squirrel, an owl, some insects, and an alligator. He wrote a book about his own dog, called The Dog Who Wouldn't Be, and it was published in 1957. He's best known for his books about the Canadian Arctic. His book Never Cry Wolf became a best-seller when it came out in 1963.

It's the birthday of novelist and poet Rosellen Brown (books by this author), born in Philadelphia (1939). Her novels include Tender Mercies (1978), Before and After (1992), and Half a Heart (2000). Brown is proud of the fact she sustained a writing career while bringing up two daughters, and she still relies on some of the routines she developed when her kids were small. "I start every day by reading a little something," she told TriQuarterly. "I've always done that in order to change the cadence of what I've been listening to, especially with children around. You know, you start the day saying, 'Yes, there is a matching sock somewhere,' or, you know, 'Hurry up, you'll miss the school bus.' And then I ... had to sit down and try to get into a very different place by reading something. But what that ends up doing to me within a few pages is [it] makes me terribly envious, jealous — makes me want to do it myself."

It's the birthday of Florence Nightingale (books by this author), born in Florence, Italy, to a wealthy English family (1820). When she was 25, she believed she had been given a purpose by God, and told her parents that she wanted to become a nurse. Since nursing was a working class-occupation, her parents were horrified, but she eventually obtained her father's permission to study—and in 1854, with the British army crippled by outbreaks of typhus, cholera, she traveled to Turkey. She became known as "the lady with the lamp," because she would quietly make her rounds among the patients at all hours of the night. Conditions in the field hospitals were appalling, and she began a campaign to reform them. She was soon one of the most famous and influential women in Britain, second only to Queen Victoria.

In 1860, she founded the Nightingale School and Home for Nurses. But she had returned from the war an invalid herself, possibly suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, or a brucellosis infection that she picked up in the Crimea. For the last several years of her life, she was blind and in need of constant nursing.

In her Notes on Nursing (1860), she wrote: "I use the word nursing for want of a better. It has been limited to signify little more than the administration of medicines and the application of poultices. It ought to signify the proper use of fresh air, light, warmth, cleanliness, quiet, and the proper selection and administration of diet — all at the least expense of vital power to the patient."

It's the birthday of the artist and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti (books by this author), born in London (1828). Rossetti studied art at the Royal Academy, and was one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a group of artists who rejected any art from Raphael onward. They wanted to return to the lush colors and passionate subjects of 15th-century Italian painting. Rossetti was fascinated with medieval culture, especially the legend of King Arthur, and a lot of his subjects were drawn from stories of the Middle Ages. He often wrote sonnets to accompany his paintings, and also provided illustrations for his sister Christina's poems. When his wife, Elizabeth, died of a laudanum overdose in 1862, he buried many of his poems with her. Later, his friends persuaded him to exhume the poetry, which he published in 1870. They were sensual and erotic, and caused a scandal.

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