Thursday, July 15, 2004


Look at the following news release closely and you'll see the name of your Fairwater correspondent among the three finalists for Wisconsin's next Poet Laureate appointment. How fortuitous is it that August 31st is my 57th birthday? We'll see.

I am honored and humbled to be selected as a finalist. And, of course, excited as hell.

The three finalists interview with the Poet Laureate Commission this Saturday, July 17th. I'd say "Wish me good luck," but it is better to want this to come out the way it should, whatever way that is.

I will say that I wouldn't be embarrassed to lose the appointment to either of the other finalists. The Poet Laureate Commission has a tough task, making such a choice.

Here is the text of the news release the Commission has sent out:

Wisconsin Poet Laureate Finalists!

Who will be the next Wisconsin writer to carry the torch for poetry? We should have that answer soon, because three finalists for the Governor-appointed Poet Laureate position were recently chosen – they are John Lehman (Cambridge), Tom Montag (Fairwater), and Denise Sweet (Green Bay). One of these poets will succeed popular outgoing Wisconsin Poet Laureate Ellen Kort, Appleton.

The responsibilities of the second Poet Laureate will be lofty ones – "to serve as a herald for Wisconsin’s poets and their work, to promote poetry statewide, and to enrich the lives of our citizens by sharing and encouraging the gift of poetry."

The seven-member Poet Laureate Commission will make a final recommendation to Governor Doyle, who will officially appoint our next Poet Laureate. Chair of this Commission is Cathryn Cofell-Mutschler (Appleton) representing the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets. Other members are David Brostrom (Waukesha), Vice-Chair of the Wisconsin Humanities Council, Barbara Coan Houghton (McFarland), representing the Wisconsin Regional Writers Association, Jane Hamblen of the Wisconsin Department of Justice, Poet Laureate Ellen Kort, Marilyn Taylor (Milwaukee), of the Council for Wisconsin Writers, and Linda Ware (Wausau), Vice-Chair of the Wisconsin Arts Board.

By August 31st, this important literary torch will pass from poet to poet.



This is part of an interview I conducted in July, 2003, with 99-year-old Pearl Mt. Castle of Lewisburg, Ohio. Pearl taught school for forty years, usually fifth grade. She taught Sunday School for sixty-four years, retiring from that when she was in her nineties. She still lives independently in the house and on the farm her parents moved into in 1913. She still takes care of herself. She still sometimes refers to herself in the third person, in the manner of old school teachers. I've been asked what Pearl looks like, and this is how I responded: "Pearl is white-headed, fairly thin, of a medium woman's height - neither short nor tall. Her face has seen some years, but her eyes still have some fire in them. She was wearing a long, dark house dress when I interviewed her, she walks with a walker, she wears a built-up shoe and brace on the foot and ankle most damaged by the polio." I found that my job during this interview was to stay out of the way and let Pearl tell her story. Pretty much I succeeded in staying out of the way; there's no question but that Pearl can tell her story. Try and keep up with us, now.

What does the work of a 99-year-old woman consist of? What is her day like?

"I go by the clock," Pearl says. "I'm going to bed at 11:00. I start yawning, maybe, at 10:30, then I get to bed by 11:00 and it's not long until I fall asleep. I slept til - like now - I slept until about 7:00. So I get my seven or eight hours of sleep. I cook my own breakfast, slowly. The same thing every day. I like brown bread, I buy the sandwich kind, whole wheat bread. Two slices of toast with butter and jelly or preserves, absolutely home-made. Then, one egg, fried in bacon grease. For many years, I took coffee, but I have bladder trouble, so I quit coffee and have a glass or milk or a glass of juice. I could go into that kitchen and fix breakfast almost blind-folded, I've done it so many years. I don't cook every day because I might have things leftover that I warm. My micro-wave is a stainless steel skillet about so big around that holds just enough for one big helping of soup or warmed over green beans or whatever. I have an electric stove. I eat lots of fruits and vegetables."

"I'm so slow, I don't get much done," Pearl said. "I've kept this house all this time. You have to dust and run the sweeper and do all that sort of thing. I've charmed a couple of the little girls in the neighborhood - who are forty or fifty years old - their husbands grew up in this area and fished in my pond. I haven't told you yet, some of my best friends are my fishermen. When you drove in, if you'd have gone just two or three rods farther, you'd have seen the lake. All we needed to do was build a dam and the water just flowed in. It's about two and a half acres of water, and it's good fishing. Stocked it with bluegills and large-mouth bass. Now one bluegill is enough for me for a meal. You never saw bigger bluegills than the ones in that pond. A lot of people like to fish, and some of my best friends today are my fishermen. One fisherman, for instance, keeps me in that brown bread all the time. Are you familiar with the Roman Meal bread? Well, that's my loaf. That's the only bread I eat. I can eat it with fried chicken gravy and any other way, toast, sandwiches. I'm not eating too much bread, but I'm getting the good bread. That's the way I eat. That's part of what's keeping me going here - good food."

Pearl's siblings were no older than 80 when they died. "My oldest brother was 80," she said, "and the older girls were only in their 50s and 60s when they died. My oldest sister was in a tractor accident and died after that, she was only 58 at the time. She was a farmer's wife, driving a tractor down the road, pulling a wagon that had some big heavy tool on it. It started weaving and pulled her over in the ditch and the tractor rolled on her. There was a lot of diabetes in the family. I lost three sisters to diabetes. I've been very, very careful about my food. In fact, my doctor insists that I take a very tiny little tablet in order to keep me on the level. I've never had high sugar. I go in every three months for a check-up, and one test is a sugar test. So I keep ahead of that. My younger brother died in 1983, he would have been 70. My younger sisters also died in their 50s, 60s, 70."

"If I went into Lewisburg and asked people for stories about Pearl, what would they tell me?" I asked.

"That she lived around here and was the flunky for the neighborhood," Pearl said, laughing. "The fishermen are always here. The boys in the neighborhood. I haven't told you about the sheep yet, have I?"

"Why don't you tell me about sheep?" I said.

"Oh, my," she said, "that's a big story, a big story."

"This farm, seventy-six acres, only part of it can be tilled because of the terrain," she said. "Dad farmed most of it with horses. We had cows and we had sheep. Dad always had sheep in pastures and they ate the grass down low. We rotated pasture. When dad passed away in 1954, in December, he had sixteen ewes that were to lamb in January or February. His passing away in December left me here with lambing time coming up. Well, I didn't know too much about it, but I studied it. At that time, my brother lived next door and could help - the father of the nephew who lives up here now, my younger brother. What am I going to do with these sixteen ewes that are about to lamb. Take care of them. How? Well, you get up at five o'clock and feed them and take care of them and see if there were any lambs born during the night, and that sort of thing. Come back to the house and get yourself breakfast and dressed up ready for school. You go to school and wonder what's going to happen by the time you get home. I had to put my mind to looking after sheep as well as the little pupils. I was living alone now that Dad was gone. My brother was next door and ready to be called for anything that I needed, although he was not here every day then. But it was up to me to get it done. He was a great help - my little baby brother. He was only nine years old when my mother died."

To be continued....


JULY 1, 1998

We enter the second half of the year. A mourning dove calls in the distance. Blue sky. Quiet pond, summer algae. Beads of moisture on the grass. Daylight comes.

The sunlight on the cornfields creates a golden sheen. The irrigation rig north of town on the east side of Highway E is spraying canning factory waste-water today. Farther on - a strong smell of skunk. GOOD MORNING!

Thistles in the ditches have fat blossoms. Red clover and sweet clover are in bloom, too, along the roadside. Sweet, sticky smells in the morning air.

At the Sina pig farm, a man sits motionless out in the middle of his yard. In the morning sun, his skin is bronzed; he could be a statue.

Those pea fields that were harvested have been tilled again. What will come up next?

I am contemplating the division of lands: farm-land, wilderness, waste-land.

Once again, the monster-beast goes to work, like the good German he is.


JULY 2, 1998

Shall I complain about another perfect summer day? How can I? It is another good one!

North of Fairwater, waste water from the canning factory is being sprayed onto the field to the west of Highway E. A strong, sour stench.

I am missing the hawk. It has been a long time since I've seen him. Where is he?

Weeds and corn are starting to show themselves in a field of beans. I remember the miles and miles of beans I've walked. That was an eon ago, of course. That was a previous life.

I do love the flowers at Five Corners. Someone should hug the man good who tends them.

Farther north along Highway E, day lilies are in bloom. They are tough competitors, sturdy beasts. This season is a good one for all plants, though. It's green all the way to the mountains.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?