Aug. 13, 2012

The Farm

by Joyce Sutphen

My father's farm is an apple blossomer.
He keeps his hills in dandelion carpet
and weaves a lane of lilacs between the rose
and the jack-in-the-pulpits.
His sleek cows ripple in the pastures.
The dog and purple iris
keep watch at the garden's end.

His farm is rolling thunder,
a lightning bolt on the horizon.
His crops suck rain from the sky
and swallow the smoldering sun.
His fields are oceans of heat,
where waves of gold
beat the burning shore.

A red fox
pauses under the birch trees,
a shadow is in the river's bend.
When the hawk circles the land,
my father's grainfields whirl beneath it.
Owls gather together to sing in his woods,
and the deer run his golden meadow.

My father's farm is an icicle,
a hillside of white powder.
He parts the snowy sea,
and smooths away the valleys.
He cultivates his rows of starlight
and drags the crescent moon
through dark unfurrowed fields.

"The Farm" by Joyce Sutphen, from Straight Out of View. © Beacon Press, 1995. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Construction began on the Berlin Wall on this date in 1961. After World War II, Germany had been divided up by British, French, Soviet, and American occupying forces. The city of Berlin lay completely within Soviet territory, but it was also divided. Soviet forces controlled the eastern part of the city and the country, and they were increasingly concerned about locking it down against the democratic West. The border was porous after the war, and millions of East Germans emigrated west in search of greater opportunities. By 1961, they were leaving at a rate of a thousand per day.

So in the early hours of the morning, East German soldiers quietly began laying down barbed wire: a hundred miles of it just inside the border of East Berlin. It wasn't long before the wire was replaced by a six-foot block wall, which the East German authorities called an "Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart." Nine years later, the wall was raised to 10 feet, but people still tried to escape. Finally, in 1989, with the end of the Cold War, East and West Berlin residents gathered on either side of the wall and began chipping away at it, knocking off blocks with sledgehammers and climbing back and forth over it. The wall was formally dismantled, and Germany reunified, in 1990.

Opha Mae Johnson became the first female Marine on this date in 1918. Just the day before, the Secretary of the Navy had announced that women would be allowed to enlist as reservists, for stateside clerical duty during World War I. This was to free up male soldiers for combat duty overseas. The next day, 18-year-old Opha Mae Johnson was the first one in line. More than 300 women enlisted during World War I to serve as secretaries and cooks, until the U.S. Marine Reserves were disbanded in July 1919, nearly a year later.

It's the birthday of novelist Tom Perrotta (books by this author), born in Garwood, New Jersey (1961). He grew up in blue-collar Newark, idolizing Bruce Springsteen. After he went on to study creative writing and started publishing his own novels, he didn't want to distance himself from his New Jersey life. He said: "I like to write simply and clearly. I never wanted to write for the guys I met in college; I wanted to write for the guys I grew up with who weren't literary sophisticates. I have an allergy to fancy writing."

His books include Election (1998), Little Children (2004), and The Abstinence Teacher (2007). His most recent book is The Leftovers (2011), about what might happen if the Rapture didn't quite live up to evangelical expectations. Stephen King called it "the best Twilight Zone episode you never saw — not 'The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street,' but 'The Monsters Are Us in Mapleton.'"

It's the birthday of director Alfred Hitchcock, born in London (1899). His father was a greengrocer — and a strict man. Once, when the five-year-old Alfred misbehaved, his father sent him to the police station and they locked him in a cell for a few minutes to teach him a lesson. Hitchcock was so terrified that he was afraid of the police for the rest of his life, and he rarely drove a car so that he could not be pulled over. Hitchcock directed great suspense and horror films, including Rebecca (1940), Notorious (1946), Rear Window (1954), Vertigo (1958), Psycho (1960), and The Birds (1963).

He said: "A good film is when the price of the dinner, the theatre admission and the babysitter were worth it."

It's the birthday of sharpshooter Annie Oakley, born Phoebe Ann Mosey in Woodland, Ohio (1860). She was born in a log cabin and grew up in poverty; after her father froze to death in a blizzard, she helped support her family by hunting. She was such a good shot that in 1875, at the age of 15, she entered a shooting contest and won, beating a well-known marksman named Frank Butler. Butler ended up marrying Annie and making her part of his touring act. When Buffalo Bill Cody's famous Wild West Show needed a new performer, Oakley auditioned, and she became the star of the show. One of her fans was Sitting Bull, the chief who had defeated General Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn. After seeing one of her performances, he was so impressed that he offered to pay for a photograph of the two of them together.

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




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