Tuesday

Jun. 14, 2005

Turtle

by Kay Ryan

TUESDAY, 14 JUNE, 2005
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Poem: "Turtle" by Kay Ryan from Flamingo Watching. © Copper Beach Press. Reprinted with permission.

Turtle

Who would be a turtle who could help it?
A barely mobile hard roll, a four-oared helmet,
She can ill afford the chances she must take
In rowing toward the grasses that she eats.
Her track is graceless, like dragging
A packing-case places, and almost any slope
Defeats her modest hopes. Even being practical,
She's often stuck up to the axle on her way
To something edible. With everything optimal,
She skirts the ditch which would convert
Her shell into a serving dish. She lives
Below luck-level, never imagining some lottery
Will change her load of pottery to wings.
Her only levity is patience,
The sport of truly chastened things.


Literary and Historical Notes:

Today is Flag Day, the day on which the stars and stripes officially became our national flag in 1777. No one knows for sure, but it was most likely designed by Congressman Francis Hopkinson and sewn by a seamstress in Philadelphia named Betsy Ross.


It's the birthday of the man who helped us find quotations, John Bartlett, born in Plymouth, Massachusetts (1820). His Familiar Quotations came out in 1855.


It's the birthday of the woman who wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe, born in Litchfield, Connecticut (1811). She lived for many years in Cincinnati, Ohio, just across the Ohio River from Kentucky. Ohio didn't allow slavery, but Kentucky did, and so Cincinnati was a popular destination for escaped slaves. Harriet Beecher Stowe saw many slaves rushing across the frozen river in the winter, which was part of the inspiration to write Uncle Tom's Cabin. The book came out in 1852.


It was on this day in 1940 that the German Army marched into Paris. The French had surrendered the city a few days earlier. There was no violence when the Nazis came in. The German soldiers marched through the Arc de Triomphe, while Parisians watched from the sidewalks of the Champs-Elysèes. A few weeks afterward, Hitler made a visit. He came to the Eiffel Tower and the Opera building and visited Napoleon's tomb. Hitler said, in 1941, "I'm getting ready to flatten Leningrad and Moscow without losing any peace of mind, but it would have pained me greatly if I'd had to destroy Paris."


It's the birthday of the travel writer Jonathan Raban, born in Norfolk, England (1942). He grew up reading Huckleberry Finn, and in 1979 he flew into St. Paul, Minnesota, bought a little boat, set off down the Mississippi to New Orleans. He wrote about it in his first big travel book, Old Glory: An American Voyage, which came out in 1981.


And it was on this day in 1951 the world's first commercially produced electronic digital computer was unveiled, known as the UNIVAC. It weighed eight tons, and used 5,000 vacuum tubes. It cost a quarter million dollars, but it could perform a thousand calculations per second, the fastest rate in the world at the time. The first one was bought by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The president of IBM thought that computers were far too complex, and would never sell. But with the invention of the microchip in 1971, all the processing power of those thousands of vacuum tubes could be crammed into a tiny space.

In 1975, an engineer named Ed Roberts was one of the first people to try to market a computer to ordinary people. It didn't sell very well. You had to know how to turn hundreds of little switches. But it was an inspiration to Stephen Wozniak, who went on to found Apple, and also a young student at Harvard named Bill Gates.


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