Mar. 21, 2005

Boarding a Bus

by Steven Huff

MONDAY, 21 MARCH, 2005
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Poem: "Boarding a Bus" by Steven Huff, from Proof. © Two Rivers Review, Reprinted with permission.

Boarding a Bus

In a small-knit Iowa town I watched
a couple board the bus and take the seat
behind me. They'd waited till then to count
their cash. I could hear each of them whisper
fives and ones like vespers, and repeat, then declare
they couldn't afford to go. "But," she added,
"we haven't had a vacation in—" "That's
very true," he said. And they sighed into the rolling scene:
the sunset on a sea of corn,
a lonely red gas station, an old man changing a flat.
I don't want to scare anyone, but
this is your life too. Tell me how it's any different.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the anniversary of the Battle of the Somme in World War I. On this day in 1918, General Erich Ludendorff launched the biggest German offensive of the year with a five-hour artillery barrage, trying to drive a wedge between the British and French, and trying to drive the British to the sea. The Germans advanced about 40 miles, creating a bulge in the British and French lines; in less than two weeks, almost 500,000 men were lost to both sides.

It was on this day in 1617 that Rebecca Rolfe died on a visit to England from the colonies. We know her as Pocahontas, the daughter of the Chieftan Powhatan. When the English settlers came to Jamestown, and there was trouble between them and the Indians, she helped to settle it. She married an Englishman, John Rolfe, in 1614. Two years later they went to England, where she was a great celebrity, but she caught either small pox or pneumonia, and died.

It's the birthday of poet Phyllis Mcginley, born in Ontario, Oregon (1905). She began writing light verse when she was in her early twenties, and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 for her collection, Times Three: Selected Verse From Three Decades (1960). She also wrote novels for young adults.

It's the birthday of showman Florenz Ziegfeld, born in Chicago (1869). Starting in 1907, he staged the Ziegfeld Follies in New York—featuring scantily clad show girls, extravagant sets and costumes, and musical comedy. He launched the careers of Fanny Brice, W.C. Fields, Will Rogers, and Eddie Cantor.

It's the birthday of composer Johann Sebastian Bach, born in Eisenach, in Thuringia (1685). The 11th child of a couple who died by the time Bach was ten, he was raised by his brother, Johann Christian Bach, who taught him organ and clavier. Bach worked as an organist in Thuringia and composed sacred music; he was court organist and a member of the court orchestra in Weimer; then, for the last 27 years of his life, he was a cantor, a church music director and choir director in Liepzig. In his own lifetime he was such a renowned organist that his talent for composition was overlooked, and he was not fully recognized until at least half a century after his death.

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