My Father Sells a Vacuum Cleaner to James Michener


On the writer’s doorstep of a large house overlooking the river, my father speaks to the housekeeper. Inside he dumps dirt on the rug, sucks it up in one whoosh, shows her that the Electrolux will even suck up a steel sphere. Mr. Michener hears the noise, comes to the front hall. Agrees to buy the vacuum cleaner. Invites my father into his office where an Underwood sits on a large mahogany desk, in front of a photo of the author and John Kennedy shaking hands. Mr. Michener asks about my father’s family history in Bucks County and is surprised to find out the salesman is a descendant of Edward Hicks, the folk artist. That my father dropped out of pre-med during the Depression and built airplanes for WWII. How would the Quaker Hicks paint a Peaceable Kingdom in 1964? A war raging in Southeast Asia, the civil rights movement on the move, the next generation not accepting anything less than peace. They speak of these things as if they might solve them standing in this doorway. A canoe floats downstream on the Delaware River in front of them. On the way home my father will buy corn from a farm stand where they let him cut it from the field himself.

Barbara Buckman Strasko was the first Poet Laureate of Lancaster County. She is the 2009 River of Words Teacher of the Year and is the Poet in the Schools for the city of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Her poems have appeared in: Best New Poets, Rhino, Nimrod, Brilliant Corners, Ninth Letter and Poet Lore. Her book of poems, Graffiti in Braille was published in 2012. Her poem “Bricks and Mortar” is engraved in granite in Lancaster’s main square.