May 21, 2003

Hay for the Horses

by Gary Snyder

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Poem: "Hay for the Horses," by Gary Snyder from Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems (North Point Press).

Hay for the Horses

He had driven half the night
From far down San Joaquin
Through Mariposa, up the
Dangerous Mountain roads,
And pulled in at eight a.m.
With his big truckload of hay
                  behind the barn.
With winch and ropes and hooks
We stacked the bales up clean
To splintery redwood rafters
High in the dark, flecks of alfalfa
Whirling through shingle-cracks of light,
Itch of haydust in the
                  sweaty shirt and shoes.
At lunchtime under Black oak
Out in the hot corral,
--The old mare nosing lunchpails,
Grasshoppers crackling in the weeds--
"I'm sixty-eight," he said,
"I first bucked hay when I was seventeen.
I thought, that day I started,
I sure would hate to do this all my life.
And dammit, that's just what
I've gone and done."

Literary Notes:

It's the birthday of Alexander Pope, born in London in 1688. He was one of the first English poets who was able to support himself solely on his writing. After contracting a spinal disease at the age of 12, Pope became crippled and remained in fragile health for the rest of his life. Even as an adult, he only grew to the height of four and a half feet, which later made him an easy target for his critics. Pope was largely self-taught, since anti-Catholic sentiments prevented him from entering a university. His first literary success came with the publication of An Essay on Criticism (1711), which is now the source of many adages, such as "fools rush in where angels fear to tread" and "a little learning is a dangerous thing." He was good friends with Jonathan Swift and was instrumental in the publishing of Gulliver's Travels. Some of Pope's greatest accomplishments were his English translations of The Iliad and The Odyssey.

It's the birthday of poet Robert Creeley, born in Arlington, Massachusetts (1926). He was brought up on a farm and lost both his father and the use of his left eye before he was 5 years old. His poems deal largely with intimate relationships, which he writes about in short, snappish lines. His poems have been compared with jazz music, and he is well known for his collaboration with musicians and visual artists such as bassist Steve Swallow and artist Jim Dine. Creeley has published more than 60 volumes of poetry in the United States and abroad. He was the New York State poet from 1989-1991.

It's the birthday of painter Henri Rousseau, born in Laval, France (1844). His painting was associated with the Naïve movement, and he produced fantastic images painted in bright, sweeping colors. He was most famous for his jungle scenes, such as the paintings Tiger in a Tropical Storm (Surprised!) (1891) and The Dream (1910).

It's the birthday of writer Harold Robbins, born Frank Kane in New York City, New York (1916). Abandoned on the doorstep of an orphanage as a baby, he made his first million at the age of 20 by trading wholesale sugar. However, his fortune dried up with the onset of World War II, and he got a job with Universal Studios in Hollywood first as a shipping clerk and later as a studio executive. Then he became a writer. His stories are fast-moving and packed with action, romance, and intrigue. One of his most well known novels is The Carpetbaggers (1961), which is loosely based on the life of eccentric businessman Howard Hughes. Robbins wrote prolifically, producing over 20 books, which were translated into 32 languages. He is one of the best-selling authors in history. Before he died in 1997, Robbins believed that he would eventually be known as the greatest writer in the world.

It's the birthday of jazz pianist and bandleader Thomas "Fats" Waller, born in New York City, New York (1904). A minister's son, Waller played the organ and sang in the choir of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. He later began playing organ for movie theaters and vaudeville shows. After co-writing some songs with his former piano teacher, Waller wrote the score for the musical Hot Chocolates (1929), which was produced on Broadway. It was his passport to success, and he became a coveted performer in cities such as Vienna, Berlin, and Paris. At a party thrown by George Gershwin in 1934, Waller impressed the RCA record executives so much, they immediately signed him to a recording contract.

On this day in 1927, aviator Charles Lindbergh landed in Paris, becoming the first person in the world to make a non-stop solo flight across the Atlantic. The headline in the New York Times read, "Lindbergh Does It! To Paris in 33 1/2 Hours; Flies 1,000 Miles Through Snow and Sleet; Cheering French Carry Him Off Field." Lindbergh brought five sandwiches along for the flight, saying, "If I get to Paris, I won't need any more. And if I don't get to Paris, I won't need any more, either." He flew through fog and sleet, and sometimes only 10 feet above the water. The trip was 3,610 miles long.

Five years later to the day, Amelia Earhart became the second person and first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic, traveling from Newfoundland to Northern Ireland in 15 hours. Despite engine problems and the failure of several flight instruments, she successfully landed in a field in the British Isles. A man approached her, and she asked, "Where am I?" The man said, "Gallegher's pasture...have you come far?" "From America," she replied. Earhart prided herself on packing light, and had only taken along a thermos of soup, a can of tomato juice, and smelling salts to stay awake.

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