Jun. 26, 2003

Surviving Bulls

by Leland Kinsey

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Poem: "Surviving Bulls," by Leland Kinsey from Sledding on Hospital Hill (David R. Godine, Publisher).

Surviving Bulls

The whitewashed walls were smeared with blood
the day the bull rampaged inside the barn
after escaping from its pen.
My father gave my brother and me
each a stout stick to block exits
and hoped we didn't have to use them
as he beat the bull around the stable floor,
bloodied its nose, dented his ribs,
as the bull had done to my mother
when it pinned her to the ground
in the pasture and rolled and butted her about.
He'd then gone in the barn with the cows
and she managed to crawl beyond the fence
where we found her sitting when we came
home from the fields.

I once had a young Jersey bull turn on me
in the muddy barnyard.
He came from the side, lowered his horns
and bowled me over cleanly
and two or three of his feet tromped
me into the mud. I struggled up
and he turned to come again.
I pulled a fence post from the ground
and laid it hard right on his crown.
He went down to his knees
recovered and fled to the woods
with me in pursuit
and not until a half-mile in
did I notice I still carried the heavy post.

A full grown Holstein bull charged me once
with no chance for escape.
I jumped slightly as he hit,
wrapped my legs around his nose,
my arms around his neck
and gave a twist that took him down
heavily but not much on me
and stunned him enough to give me time to run.

My brother, not so lucky, was rumpled good
by the same bull in an open field,
held at the chest by the bull's head
as the bull spun round
then backed up for more,
but my brother sprung behind
a lone utility pole
and after a short savage dance
the bull walked off, and my brother,
breathing painfully, walked home.

The snap once broke on the nose ring pole
as my father led an Ayrshire bull to breed.
In the tight enclosure the bull knocked
my father about and down like a skittle peg,
but he rolled under a high enough board
and got away with a bruised leg,
and an unwanted lesson in maintenance.
My father had taken nothing out on that bull,
but this day he gave the bull who knocked
my mother down a hard and useless lesson.
After it all he called the commission sales
to come and get the bull while it still stood,
and gave my swollen, black-and blue mother
the check to cash and spend in town,
but she just put it by.

Literary Notes:

On this day in 1974, bar codes were first used in supermarket checkout lanes. In a Marsh's supermarket in Troy, Ohio, the first product to be scanned was a 10-pack of Wrigley's Juicy Fruit chewing gum. It just happened to be the first thing lifted from the cart. Today, the pack of gum is on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

On this day in 1945, the United Nations Charter was signed by delegates from 50 nations in the Herbst Theater in San Francisco. The world body was established to save "succeeding generations from the scourge of war."

On this day in 1870, the first section of the Atlantic City Boardwalk opened. People came from all over the world to visit the New Jersey beach for the fresh sea air and the fancy hotels and restaurants, and to eat saltwater taffy along the boardwalk. Back then, swimmers wore wool flannel bathing dresses with stockings, canvas shoes, and big straw hats. There were censors who walked the beaches looking for people who showed too much skin.

It's the birthday of writer Pearl Buck, born in Hillsboro, West Virginia (1892). Her parents were missionaries. They took her to China when she was 3 months old, and her first language was Chinese. She published stories in the weekly children's edition of the Shanghai Mercury. Her first book was East Wind: West Wind (1930), and she followed it with the book that won the Pulitzer and made her famous all over the world: The Good Earth (1931), about a Chinese farmer and his wife and their struggle to make a life for themselves. She wrote two sequels to The Good Earth: Sons (1932) and A House Divided (1935), and published them all together in 1935 as a trilogy called House of Earth that won her the Nobel Prize. She went on to write over 85 books, sometimes two or three a year, but that early novel, The Good Earth, was always her best.

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