Apr. 26, 2001

Girl on a Tractor

by Joyce Sutphen

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Poem: "Girl on a Tractor," by Joyce Sutphen, from Coming Back to the Body (Holy Cow Press, 2000).

Girl on a Tractor

I knew the names of all the cows before
I knew my alphabet, but no matter the
subject; I had mastery of it, and when
it came time to help in the fields, I
learned to drive a tractor at just the right
speed, so that two men, walking
on either side of the moving wagon
could each lift a bale, walk towards
the steadily arriving platform and
simultaneously hoist the hay onto
the rack, walk to the next bale, lift,
turn, and find me there, exactly where
I should be, my hand on the throttle,
carefully measuring out the pace.

It's the anniversary of the explosion that occurred at the Chernobyl atomic power station at Pripyat in the Ukraine (1986).

On this day in 1937, German planes attacked the ancient Basque town of Guernica, in northern Spain. Later that same year, Pablo Picasso commemorated the tragedy with his great mural "Guernica."

It's the birthday of novelist and short-story writer Bernard Malamud, born in Brooklyn, New York (1914). His first novel, The Natural, came out in1952. He said that he wrote about "simple people struggling to make their lives better in a world of bad luck."

It's the birthday of "the mother of the blues," Ma Rainey, born as Gertrude Pridgett Rainey in Columbus, Georgia (1886). She toured around the South in the years before and after World War I with her husband, "Pa" Rainey, in a song-and-dance act. On stage she wore a sequined gown and a necklace of gold coins.

It's the birthday Charles Farrar Browne, born near Waterford, Maine (1834), who became famous as a humorist under the pen name Artemus Ward. The fictional character "Artemis Ward" was a carnival manager who commented on current events in a New England dialect augmented by bad grammar and misspelled words. His greatest accomplishment was to launch the career of young writer named Samuel Longhorn Clemens—Mark Twain—by helping him get his first story, "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County," published in the New York Mercury.

"I can't sing. As a singist I am not a success. I am saddest when I sing. So are those who hear me. They are sadder even than I am."

"Let us all be happy and live within our means, even if we have to borrow the money to do it with."

It's the birthday of American landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, born in Hartford, Connecticut (1822). He designed and landscaped many great parks, including Central Park in New York, Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, Prospect Park in Brooklyn, and the grounds of the U. S. Capitol. He also served as the first superintendent of Yosemite National Park.

It's the birthday of ornithologist and artist John James Audubon, born in Haiti (1785). He grew up in France, where he became interested in drawing birds. When he was 34 years old and bankrupt, he came up with the idea of making a complete illustrated catalogue of every species of bird in America. It was published in 1838 as The Birds of America. It became a bestseller, and it allowed Audubon to buy himself a small estate overlooking the Hudson River.

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