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The Spirit of Man Goeth Upward

Research by Laura S. McKee, Berea Sound Fellow, regrading how WW-II era radio and personal histories have shaped the development of "From the Diary of Eve", a narrative series of poems set in Southern Appalachia.

"Joyce Jordan, Girl Intern", 3-22-40 and 3-25-40

Joyce Jordan, Girl Intern was a radio soap opera that ran for several years. Though I was only able to listen to two episodes, I was surprised to discover the existence of such a program—one that followed the career of a young woman in what was, during the 1930s and 1940s, an unequivocally male-dominated profession.  From the two episodes available in the Archives, I was, however, able to glean that the series focuses very much on normative gender roles, even within the life of this trail-blazing character. For example, the conflict of episodes 40 and 41 centers on the strained friendship of Jordan and one of the hospital nurses, Ellison, who is hiding a secret.

I am curious to track down additional episodes to see if  this “female drama” does indeed serve as the main narrative of Jordan. Nevertheless, Eve’s interest in medicine will only be propelled further by this series and at least one poem in Chapter two will describe her experience listening to this soap opera on the radio.

Moreover, the series will help seal not only her interest in medicine but will influence, on some level, her decision to join the Army Corps of Nurses near the end of Chapter three. The following poem imagines the moment in which she tells her now-distant father of her decision, following her brother’s death, to leave the mountains of East Tennessee in support of the war effort overseas.

 


"Joyce Jordan, Girl Intern" Episode 40. 3-22-40
WS-ET-40004. WHAS Historical Radio Collection, 1936-1967, HC 41.


"Joyce Jordan, Girl Intern" Episode 41. 3-22-40
WS-ET-40006. WHAS Historical Radio Collection, 1936-1967, HC 41.

"Enlistment, 1943"

Yesterday, when static fractured the newsman’s voice,
clouds hung thick over the roof like a mother’s hand
pressed to a child’s mouth. But my ears urged on:

the silence stopped nothing. When I closed my eyes
I could feel buildings crumble; explosions in a moth’s wings
and I needed to find a way to tell him. My father

square stanced and stalwart over the potato fields.
The tips of his Oxfords red with clay. As he tapped
the green shoots: umbilici between our stomachs

and the sky, and he wondered, I suppose, what we’d leave him.
His face the color of a heart when I said it. There is no
easy way to leave. Bicuspid. He frowned against my smile.

We are always two places: the past limping beside the present.
My brother here and there. The doctor’s hands slicing open
the ox’s chest to show me an engine of blood when I learned,

the summer our father sent us away, more than one way to heal
a man. “One of you will die.” He said unblinking towards my
eye with such conviction I somehow knew he meant

himself. But that was before it arrived. The telegraph
trembling in his hand. When I’d thought I’d stay
another season in those hills, kneel before the laboring women,

a knife sandwiched between the mattresses. I will miss their snarls,
their foul mouths singing until a smaller cry
would hush us all. “Save His Life…and Find

Your Own.” Say the wartime posters with their
white-winged and long-lashed nurses absolving men
from death, and “Join the Army Corps of Nurses” one poster

I’d folded into quarters. Unwound like a scroll
beneath his thumbs. His eyes pressing shut.
He dropped it between the potatoes stalks and walked away.