Jul. 7, 2001

A Typical Manitoba Railroad Station

by Ruth Daigon

Saturday, 7 July 2001
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Poem: "A Typical Manitoba Railroad Station," by Ruth Daigon from Between One Future and the Next (Papier-Mache Press).

A Typical Manitoba Railroad Station

I can still feel the slivers
as I slid on the platform, restless,
waiting for those weekend
guests. We hiked the mile back

from the depot, took the shortcut
across Thorkelson's field or the long
way round over hedge, ditch, road
raw with skid marks and sunlight.

The sun was a piece of bait to get us
up in the morning. Nothing stirred
except a grasshopper clinging to a
blade weighing it toward its roots.

Too cold for swimming, we marched
along railroad ties, careful
not to miss a single one or
we had to pay a forfeit.

Lonesome for the whistle,
we waited for a train
and when none appeared,
we watched the tracks.

Stuck in our skins, we
sat on the ties studying the dirt
under our nails with our life-
lines buried in our fists.

It's the birthday of the operatic composer Gian Carlo Menotti, born in Cadegliano, Italy, in 1911. His most popular opera is Amahl and the Night Visitors, which premiered in 1951, and which is about a lame boy who joins the Wise Men on their journey to bring gifts to the Christ child.

It's the birthday of science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein, born in Butler, Missouri, in 1907. He studied physics and mathematics at UCLA and then began writing science fiction, or, as he preferred to call it, "speculative fiction." His novel Stranger in a Strange Land, published in 1961, became a cult classic.

It's the birthday of the film director George Cukor, born in New York City in 1899. He directed Dinner at Eight and Little Women, and he became known as a "women's director," because he was known for bringing out some of the best performances by actresses such as Katharine Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman, and Judy Garland. He directed W.C. Fields in his most memorable role, as Mr. Micawber in David Copperfield. Cukor's other great films include The Philadelphia Story, A Star is Born, and My Fair Lady, for which he won an Oscar.

It's the birthday of the painter Marc Chagall, born in Vitebsk, Russia, in 1887, to a family of devout Russian Jews. He was educated at both Jewish and Russian schools, and eventually sent off to study art in St. Petersburg. In 1910, he moved to Paris, where he absorbed the bohemian atmosphere and produced some of his best early works. He lived for most of his life in France, while traveling the world to fulfill a number of high-profile commissions. He designed stained glass windows for the United Nations headquarters in New York, two large murals for the Metropolitan Opera in Lincoln Center, and painted a new ceiling for the Paris Opera . He designed sets and costumes for ballets and opera, and he also painted.

It's the birthday of journalist Abraham Cahan, born in Vilnius, Lithuania in 1860. In 1897, he helped to found the Yiddish-language daily newspaper, Jewish Daily Forward. He became the paper's editor in 1902, a job he held for the next forty years.

It's the birthday of Austrian composer Gustav Mahler, born in Kaliste, Bohemia in 1860. He studied piano as a child, entered the Vienna Conservatory at the age of 15, and turned to conducting to support himself. At the age of 37, he was named conductor of the Vienna Court Opera. When he was 47, he became the conductor of the Philharmonic Society of New York. He produced nine massive symphonies and several song cycles, including Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Youth's Magic Horn) and Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth).

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