Stone Soup

S

stone soup headerA little storytelling fun: a poem by yours truly. The title is a reference to the traditional Stone Soup folktale. What role does the context provided by understanding the title play in the interpretation of the story?

 

In November, 1954
In Sylacauga, Alabama
Ann Hodges was lying on her couch
Asleep
In her apartment
In the middle of the afternoon
With a blanket wrapped around her
And a cylindrical couch cushion wedged under her neck
When a meteorite
Or a baseball-sized piece of one
(Isn’t a piece of a meteorite still a “meteorite?”)
Crashed through the ceiling
Bounced off the radio
And made a bruise the size and shape of a pineapple on her side

 

Mrs. Hewlett Hodges and the meteorite Thu, Dec 2, 1954 – 3 • Tampa Bay Times (St. Petersburg, Pinellas, Florida, United States of America) • Newspapers.com

The reporters said the space rock
Was twelve inches in circumference
Reporters like to exaggerate
Twelve inches sounds big
But if we divide 12 by pi (3.14 is good enough)
We can calculate that the diameter of the Hodges meteorite
Was 3.8 inches
More like a softball than a baseball
But a lot less like an iron basketball than you might think
If you’re not paying attention

 

Ann Hodges’ landlord was named Birdie Guy
(I think that’s a great name; don’t you?
Especially for a woman)
“Birdie, this is Ann. How are you?”
“Good to hear from you, Ann
Is everything okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine
But there’s this big hole in the ceiling…
And you’re not going to believe how it got there!”

 

Everyone came over to Ann Hodges’ apartment
Neighbors
Reporters
Her sister

 

The Brattles came over
From the white house three doors down
The one with the pillars in front
And the circular driveway
And the mailbox with a big decal of a largemouth bass on it
“It’s a good thing it didn’t hit our house,” said Ernie Brattle
“It could have hit one of the children
Or dented the hood of my new Packard”
“This is God’s judgment,” proclaimed Millicent Brattle
“It didn’t hit our house because nobody was home
Nobody was idly sleepin’ in our house
When they coulda been bein’ productive”

 

Billy Hodges from around the block
(Same last name but no relation)
And his friend Dewey
Saw the cars in front of the apartment
They threw their bikes down on the front lawn
And hung around for a few minutes
And thought it was kind of cool
That a rock from space
Could punch a hole in the ceiling
“I wonder what the odds of being hit by a meteorite are?” mused Dewey
Billy suggested they were “astronomical”
And they laughed
And got a few dirty looks
Because this was a serious matter
They left after a few minutes
When the thrill wore off

 

A geologist analyzed the rock
And found high concentrations of iron and nickel
He confirmed that the rock was indeed a meteorite
A visitor from outer space
Woooooooo

 

People in town had seen smoke trails in the sky
And some had heard a boom
When the meteor broke the sound barrier
A few thought a plane had crashed
Walter Emmons conjectured
That the soviets were responsible
And told everyone to get ready
For President Eisenhower to make a move against the commies

 

Sergeant Drake of the Sylacauga Police Force
Said the rock was “evidence”
He confiscated it
And called in the experts from the U.S. Air Force
Who know all about rocks from space
(Because they fly jets at very high altitudes, I guess)
And they also confirmed
That the Hodges meteorite was
In fact
A meteorite

 

Walter Emmons was disappointed
He’d spent a lot of money on ammunition
And had stocked up his cellar
With emergency food supplies

 

When Ann got out of the hospital…

 

Well, she didn’t go there because of the injury
She went there because all the lookie-loos
And rubberneckers
And gawkers and neighbors
And reporters asking questions
Made her anxious
And nervous
And frenzied
And she needed a sedative

 

But anyway …
When Ann got out of the hospital
And all the commotion had died down
She wanted her meteorite back
Her meteorite
But her landlady
Birdie Guy
(The one with the interesting name)
Wanted to keep it for herself
After all, it had fallen on her property
And I’m sure it wasn’t cheap to fix the roof
Birdie hired a lawyer
And sued Ann Hodges

 

But folks thought it was unfair
When you’re struck by a rock from space
You’ve been chosen
You—not your landlady
You should get to keep it
After all
If Ann Hodges had been hit by a stray bullet
While napping on her couch
It’s not like Birdie Guy would have come around
And claimed the bullet belonged to her
Even if she did have to pay
To fix the hole in the wall

 

They settled out of court for 500 bucks
500 bucks
That’s $4,364.53 in today’s money
For a softball-sized chunk of iron from outer space
That might have landed in the Indian Ocean
Or on a glacier in Alaska
Or on some mountainside in Tibet
Or perhaps in Bulgaria

 

But by that time
The Christmas holidays had come and gone
And Rosa Parks had been arrested in Montgomery
And Salk’s new polio vaccine was in the news
And Disneyland was about to open
And Ernie Brattle had put a big crease
In the right rear quarter panel of his new Packard
And the Bureau of Engraving had added “In God We Trust”
To all of our nation’s paper currency

 

Nobody made an offer
To buy Ann’s softball-sized chunk of rock from space
So she donated it to a museum
And went back to sleep
All cozy and safe
In her apartment
With a blanket wrapped around her
And a cylindrical couch cushion wedged under her neck

 

For more on the Hodges meteorite, see http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/02/130220-russia-meteorite-ann-hodges-science-space-hit/

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