Feb. 26, 2003

On the Slow Train Passing Through

by Ruth Stone

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Poem: "On the Slow Train Passing Through," by Ruth Stone from In the Next Galaxy (Copper Canyon Press).

On the Slow Train Passing Through

Here's Moody Furniture and the town of Moody. Also the display
for Temple Chemicals, a wire fence, some rubble and bare ground.
Privy to this endless street along the tracks, I watch
ongoing traffic move around something in the road.
It's a man on the center line lying on his back;
a woman bending down to touch him.
The cars move on. The train slides past.
And yet, in Roanoke, Virginia, in 1907, when grandma's
house was on fire, the passing trolley stopped and everyone
got off and ran up the hill to help, even though there was no easy water.
Three members of a Baptist choir endangered their whiskers,
their business attires, their waistcoats and themselves, to carry
out grandma's organ and her cherry sitting room furniture.
Although the upstairs burned through the roof and my mother's
new treadle sewing machine and her new tailored suit were
among the traumatic losses; they all did what they could.
It was the dignity of a communal disaster. No one was going
anywhere more important than that. The trolley horse had been
unhitched and loosely tethered to graze and eventually they heard
the far off sound of the approaching fire brigade. Meanwhile,
grandpa had been fetched from the foundry. Afterward, those women
who had done all they could to save my grandma's belongings,
total strangers, each in her own way commiserated with grandma.
The men washed at the pump and they all walked down the hill.
The conductor hitched up the trolley and they went on with their
            regular day.

Literary Notes:

It's the birthday of writer Sharon Bell Mathis, born in Atlantic City, New Jersey (1937). She wrote Brooklyn Story (1970), Sidewalk Story (1971), Teacup Full of Roses (1972), and The Hundred Penny Box (1975).

It's the birthday of the man who wrote the words, "I hear the train a comin'; it's rollin' 'round the bend,/And I ain't seen the sunshine since I don't know when," Johnny Cash, born in Kingsland, Arkansas (1932). He made his first big hit, "Cry, Cry, Cry," for Sun Records in 1955.

It's the birthday of science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon, born in Staten Island, New York (1918). His career began to bloom during science fiction's "golden age" of the 1940s. He authored hundreds of books during his lifetime, including Venus Plus X (1960), Sturgeon in Orbit (1964), Slow Sculpture (1982), and Alien Cargo (1984), but was an eccentric who lived mostly in poverty and obscurity.

It's the birthday of cartoonist Rudolph Dirks, born in Heinde, Germany (1877), who created the comic strip "The Katzenjammer Kids" in 1897.

It's the birthday of John Harvey Kellogg, born in Tyrone, Michigan (1852). At the age of twenty-four he became the staff physician at the Battle Creek Sanitarium, a position he held for sixty-two years. He was a vegetarian who advocated low calorie diets and gave us Kellogg cereals.

On this day in 1991, Tim Berner-Lee unveiled a prototype of the Web browser at the European Particle Physics Laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland. It was meant to be a tool for physicists around the world to share their research. The first commercially available Web browser, Mosaic, was released in 1993.

It's the birthday of writer who gave us The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1833) and Les Miserables (1862), Victor Hugo, born in Besançon, France (1802). The Hunchback of Notre Dame, set in 15th century Paris, tells a moving story of a gypsy girl Esmeralda and the deformed, deaf bell-ringer, Quasimodo, who loves her. Les Misérables is an epic set against the backdrop of the French Revolution, about an escaped convict, Jean Valjean, and his search for grace and redemption. He said, "There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world: and that is an idea whose time has come."

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




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