Apr. 27, 2001

Hay for the Horses

by Gary Snyder

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Poem: "Hay for the Horses," by Gary Snyder, from Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems (North Point Press, 1990).

Hay for the Horses

He had driven half the night
From far down San Joaquin
Through Mariposa, up the
Dangerous Mountain roads,
And pulled in at eight a.m.
With his big truckload of hay
    behind the barn.
With winch and ropes and hooks
We stacked the bales up clean
To splintery redwood rafters
High in the dark, flecks of alfalfa
Whirling through shingle-cracks of light,
Itch of haydust in the
    sweaty shirt and shoes.
At lunchtime under Black oak
Out in the hot corral,
— The old mare nosing lunchpails,
Grasshoppers crackling in the weeds —
"I'm sixty-eight," he said,
"I first bucked hay when I was seventeen.
I thought, that day I started,
I sure would hate to do this all my life.
And dammit, that's just what
I've gone and done."

It's the birthday of playwright August Wilson, born in Pittsburgh (1945). He dropped out of school at 15 and started spending his days at the library, reading books and dreaming of becoming a writer. In the late 1960s, he and a friend started a black theater company in Pittsburgh, but he didn't start writing plays until he moved to St. Paul in 1978. His first big success was Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, completed in 1981 and staged on Broadway in 1984. His other plays include Fences (1987), The Piano Lesson (1990), Joe Turner's Come and Gone (1988), Two Trains Running (1992) and Seven Guitars (1996).

"All the ideas and attitudes of my characters come straight out of the blues. I put that record on the turntable, and the universe stuttered. Everything fell to a new place. I lived in a rooming house in Pittsburgh at the time with this odd assortment of people. I had never connected them to anything of value. I began to look at these people differently, and at myself differently. I realized that I had history and connection—the everyday poetry of the people I'd grown up with."

It's the birthday of poet C. (Cecil) Day-Lewis, born in Sligo, Ireland (1904).

It's the birthday of the 18th president of the United States, Ulysses S. Grant, born in Point Pleasant, Ohio (1822). He served in the Mexican War, but resigned from the army in 1853 because of a drinking problem. When the Civil War broke out in April, 1861, he returned to the army, this time as a brigadier general. He won victories in Tennessee—the first victories of the war for the North—and in 1864 Lincoln made him commander of all the Union armies. Grant emerged from the war a great hero and was elected President in 1868. His two terms in office were marred by financial crises and government corruption, but the President himself was honest—he went into debt, in fact, while serving as president. When he retired, he turned to writing his memoirs in order to raise money for his family. He finished them on July 19, 1885, four days before he died.

It's the birthday of historian Edward Gibbon, born in Putney-on-the-Thames (1734), author of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (6 vol. 1776-88).

"History is indeed little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind."

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