April 16, 1948: Milk for Roger (Prairie Fire)

April 16, 1948: Milk for Roger (Prairie Fire)

Bright, chilly in wind
had to have wraps
I hemmed new dish towels
fixed sleeves wider
in everyday dress
and in afternoon
Joe ran in to say fire.

Five gallons of gas
meant to bring drill home
caused sparks off manifold
to ignite tall old grass
wind being from southeast to
east fire went to northwest to
north in a hurry.

Will left eats
Thomas came on
Ford tractor, filled sprayer with
water at tank
he and Will went in our
car with fire-fighting tools and
a cream can of water.

Fire raged towards My Creek.
We took lunch of sandwiches
cookies, chicken, dumplings and
lemonade to fire which burned
seven stacks of hay on McKees
seven stacks on Eagle Horn land
leaving three stacks here

burned to Highway, all up My Creek
east part of Wright’s pasture
Paulson’s pasture east of McKee’s.
Will wasn’t hungry
Thomas and Joe and Bus
too busy with spray
to eat our lunch.

Ed’s car could not shift to
low and high, only second
so back to McKee’s
Bus brought us home
in his new V8
Ed and Leo came here in
Graydon’s new Jeep.

Rena and Roger, 16 months
slept on davenport
Ed in south room upstairs
Leo in northwest room
I in my bed.
Roger nurses a bottle at night
we kept milk in cup near for him.

A cypress prairie burns during a early spring prescribed fire, public domain via Wikimedia Commons

A cypress prairie burns during a early spring prescribed fire, public domain image via Wikimedia Commons

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Why Poetry Matters Now More Than Ever

Today’s poem, below, is from an otherwise ordinary day in Hattie’s life that hints at her ability to attend to and appreciate details, the diversity of farm activities, and, most poignant to me, her regret at having talked too much. (Just a reminder that in April I am posting a poem a day as part of National Poetry Writing Month; in May, I’ll resume a posting schedule of three times a week.)

In 1951 Hattie turned 70 years old. What her words on the page do not say is that a goiter operation in 1936 damaged her vocal cords so that for the rest of her life, she spoke only in a hoarse whisper. Was she sorry because of physical discomfort, because it wasted time, because she felt she talked about things better left unsaid, or for some other reason? I will never know, but these kinds of questions are what keep me reading her entries.

The Language of Poetry

I have also been asking myself why poetry seems to be such a good fit for sharing Hattie’s diaries. Part of the reason is that she wrote in a simple, rhythmic style with what poet Kathleen Norris calls “Plains speech”:

“Plains speech, while nearly devoid of ‘-isms’ and ‘-ologies,’ tends toward the concrete and the personal: weather, the land, other people. Good language for a poet to hear.” (Kathleen Norris, Dakota: A Spiritual Geographyp. 18)

Plains speech—clear, tangible, sensory—came naturally to Hattie, who never stopped attending closely to the world around her. She knew how to look with care at everyday life to find what was valuable and bright and beautiful. As Norris writes, “The deprivations of the Plains … tend to turn small gifts into treasures” (p. 20).

Poetry as Paying Attention

Poetry matters now more than ever, whether we read it or write it, because it forces us to pay attention: to a word, a phrase, a line, an idea, or an object. If only for a few moments, we are one with the poem, removed from the million thoughts racing around in our heads, the insistent pinging of our cell phones the weight of our to-do lists. It doesn’t matter if we completely understand the poem; in fact, it’s probably better if we don’t, for then we linger on the words even longer and perhaps even return to them, again and again and again.

See Also


April 13, 1951: We talked too much

Bright just beautiful
Nineteen at dawn
Got warm in a hurry
Men castrated calves
Trimmed table linoleum
(steel edge wouldn’t fit)
And ate ice cream
Stanley has new
Tan Chevrolet sedan
Frankie brought milk
And we talked too much
I am sorry

1951 Chevrolet Styleline 4-Door Sedan, photo by Alden Jewell (CC BY 2.0)

1951 Chevrolet Styleline 4-Door Sedan, photo by Alden Jewell (CC BY 2.0)

April 13, 1951

April 13, 1951

Found poetry: Death of FDR

Hattie was glued to her radio the evening of April 12, 1945 and for several days afterward to learn of the death, funeral train, and burial of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In subsequent years she often remarked on the anniversary of this day, writing on April 12, 1956 that “our Nation is in sorrow untold, and all programs on the radio are in his memory.”

See this earlier post for more of Hattie’s diary entries, visit the extensive FDR Library’s digital collection of resources, and scroll to the bottom of this post for newsreel footage. You can also view the unfinished portrait from the day of his death.

April 12, 1945: I was playing solitaire

between five thirty and six
when radio told of
Franklin Roosevelt’s death
at Warm Springs, Georgia
at three thirty-five
central time.
He was sitting for a portrait
by the fireplace
at his cottage
on the hill
when he spoke of a
headache and fainted.
His valet and bell-boy
lifted him to bed but
he did not regain consciousness
died at above time
so our President is gone.
Harry S. Truman
has taken oath.
Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt
flew to Warm Springs.
A shocked world this night.

Photo of FDR taken April 11, 1945

Photo of FDR taken April 11, 1945, Courtesy of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum.

April 12, 1945

April 12, 1945