May 4, 2009


by Robert Wrigley

Returning the refilled feeder to its hanger on the tree,
I am followed, and from my first step out the door
to the careful slipping of the loop of twine over the hook's tang
made to understand as he darts within inches of my eyes
that this hummingbird, while he may not despise me,
finds my human dawdling not simply unacceptable but offensive,
a lumbering no less appalling than the moonscape of my face
and its billion plumbable pores. Even the vast tidal wash
of my infernal, slow-witted breathing disgusts him. Therefore he loops
so swiftly around me I can hardly blink, and when I tell him he is
beautiful, he hears only the two ton roar of a woolly mammoth
as it thrashes in a bog, at the edges of which, this time of year,
the red, sweet flowers he loves most of all still thrive.

"Mammoth" by Robert Wrigley, from Earthly Meditations. © Penguin, 2006. Reprinted with permission (buy now)

It's the birthday of Israeli writer Amos Oz, (books by this author) born Amos Klausner in Jerusalem (1939). His parents were immigrants from Eastern Europe. He left home to work and study at a kibbutz, and he changed his last name to Oz, which means "strength" in Hebrew. At the kibbutz, he farmed, worked in the food hall, drove tractors, and taught at the school. And in the early mornings, he wrote fiction. He published many novels, including Elsewhere Perhaps (1966), My Michael (1968), and Black Box (1987). He said, "Every single pleasure I can imagine or have experienced is more delightful, more of a pleasure, if you take it in small sips, if you take your time. Reading is not an exception."

It was on this day in 1886 that the Haymarket Square Riot broke out in Chicago. For days, union workers had been protesting at the McCormick lumber plant, advocating better working conditions and an eight-hour work day. Tensions were high between striking workers and their replacements, and the police stepped in and ended up shooting several workers and killing two of them. So on this day, May 4, a demonstration was held in Haymarket Square to protest the police violence. It was a peaceful rally, and when it was almost over, some 200 policemen arrived and demanded that the crowd disperse. Someone threw a bomb, and seven policemen were killed as a result.

The identity of the bomber was never proven, but 31 labor leaders were arrested. Eight were convicted, and four were hanged and the others sentenced to life in prison or 15 years hard labor. All of this was done with public support, but almost no proof.

It's the birthday of the man who invented the piano as we know it: Bartolomeo Cristofori, born in Padua, Italy (1655). He built on the existing harpsichord, which was similar to a piano but could only be played at one volume because harpsichord keys plucked at strings. Cristofori put hammers and dampers onto the harpsichord model, and since hammers hit the strings, the volume changed according to how hard someone played the keys. It was called the gravicembalo col piano e forte,which translates as "harpsichord with soft and loud," and then pianoforte,a "soft-loud," and then just a piano,which means, literally, "soft." Johann Sebastian Bach was one of the first great composers to use the piano, in the 1740s.

It's the birthday of novelist David Guterson, (books by this author) born in Seattle (1956). One of his favorite books was To Kill A Mockingbird, so when he decided to become a writer, he took some of the structure and the themes of that courtroom drama and wrote his first novel. It took him 10 years to do it, writing in the early mornings before he went off to teach, but in 1994 he published Snow Falling on Cedars (1994), about the murder trial of a Japanese-American in the wake of World War II. It was a huge best seller.

It's the birthday of Audrey Hepburn, born in Brussels, Belgium (1929). She wanted to become a ballerina, but when Germany invaded Holland during the war and food imports to Holland were halted, she got sick, she suffered from malnutrition, and she was too weak to dance. She recovered after the war but never regained her former strength. So she worked as a model, got some small film parts, and then the writer Colette saw her on a film set, and decided that Hepburn would be a perfect fit to star in her new play Gigi. Hepburn protested that she didn't know how to act, but Colette insisted, and so Audrey Hepburn went to America. Her next role was in Roman Holiday,and she went on to star in Charade, My Fair Lady, Breakfast at Tiffany's,and many more films.

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