Apr. 8, 2009

Feeding the New Calf

by Joyce Sutphen

The torso comes out slick and black,
after hoofs that are yellowed
like smoker's teeth, the back
two legs crossed over each other and
the head last, bunched over front legs.

Minutes later he is standing wobbly,
and the blunt mouth is sucking at my arm,
tongue rough as sandpaper, tickling along my
skin, ripping up the fine hair over my wrist.
I tie him with a rope of bailing twine,

Shake out a chunk of straw around him,
as the dust rises in the sunlit aisle. I pet
the wet coat that curls over his sharp
backbone, scratch ears that are thick as
tulip leaves, bent in the womb. Angus baby.

I think of the blue-gray afterbirth, like a shawl
he wore, now left in the gutter, of his mother,
how she groaned him out of her belly, her back
rocking back and forth in the metal stanchion,
the velvet fold of her throat on the cold cement.

After I pour the milk into a pail, I go to
where he is lunging on the rope, where he is
singing a desperate duet with his mother:
din of soulful mooing. I get him to suck
at the nipple, pulling his mouth over to it
with my hands dipped in his motherís milk,
my small solid fingers and not her warm udders,
no peach-veined bag to sink his cheek on.

The clouds sunk in his large brown eyes
float blue. He nudges me, hard.

"Feeding the New Calf" by Joyce Sutphen from Straight Out of View. © Holy Cow! Press, 2001. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, born in Chicago, Illinois (1937). He has written for The New Yorker for many years. He said, "I don't make deals, I don't party and drink with sources, and I don't play a game of leaks. I read, I listen, I squirrel information. It's fun."

It's the birthday of lyricist Yip Harburg, born in New York City (1896), who wrote "April in Paris," "It's Only a Paper Moon," and many more songs. He wrote, "The Lord made Adam, the Lord made Eve, he made 'em both a little bit naive."

It's the birthday of editor and publisher Robert Giroux, born in New Jersey (1914). He published Jean Stafford, Carl Sandburg, Jack Kerouac, Susan Sontag, and T.S. Eliot. 

On this day in 1935, Congress approved the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a federal program that created jobs for more than 8.5 million people struggling during the Great Depression. One branch of the WPA was the Federal Writers' Project, which employed about 6,000 people, including Zora Neale Hurston, John Cheever, Ralph Ellison, Saul Bellow, Loren Eiseley, and Richard Wright.

It's the birthday of Barbara Kingsolver, (books by this author) born in Annapolis, Maryland (1955). She started writing fiction when she was pregnant and had horrible insomnia. She wrote every night, but she didn't want to disturb her husband, so she worked on her novel in a closet. It was the story of a young woman who decides she needs to get out of her small town in Kentucky, and drives across the country to Arizona. Along the way, she changes her name from Marietta to Taylor, and she reluctantly takes in a three-year-old child named Turtle. That novel was The Bean Trees (1988), and it made Kingsolver's name. Since then, she has written poetry, essays, and novels like The Poisonwood Bible (1998) and Prodigal Summer (2001). In 2007, she published Animal, Vegetable, Miracle,a book about her family's year of eating only food that was grown within 100 miles of their house. It was a huge best seller.

She said, "It is harrowing for me to try to teach 20-year-old students, who earnestly want to improve their writing. The best I can think to tell them is: Quit smoking, and observe posted speed limits. This will improve your odds of getting old enough to be wise."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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