Apr. 21, 2008

Bronco Busting, Event #1

by May Swenson

The stall is so tight he can't raise heels or knees
when the cowboy, coccyx to bareback, touches down

tender as a deerfly, forks him, gripping the rope—
handle over the withers, testing the cinch,

as if hired to lift a cumbersome piece of brown
luggage, while assistants perched on the rails arrange

the kicker, a foam-rubber band around the narrowest,
most ticklish part of the loins, leaning full weight

on neck and rump to keep him throttled, this horse,
"Firecracker," jacked out of the box through the sprung

gate, in the same second raked both sides of the belly
by ratchets on booted heels, bursts into five-way

motion: bucks, pitches, swivels, humps, and twists,
an all-over-body-sneeze that must repeat

until the flapping bony lump attached to his spine is gone.
A horn squawks. Up from the dust gets a buster named Tucson.

"Bronco Busting, Event #1" by May Swenson, from Nature: Poems Old and New. © Houghton Mifflin Company. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of John Clifford Mortimer, (books by this author) born in London (1923). He's best known as the author of the novels featuring the lawyer Rumpole of the Bailey.

He wrote his first novel when he was in law school, and he's continued to practice law his entire life, writing plays, novels, and screenplays in his spare time. He once boasted — with no particular vanity — of being "the best playwright ever to have defended a murderer at the Central Criminal Court." He became well known in Great Britain, but most Americans hadn't heard of him until the BBC's adaptation of his Rumpole books aired on PBS in the early '80s.

As a lawyer, Mortimer developed a reputation for fighting for civil rights and free speech. Mortimer once said that comedy is "the only thing worth writing in this despairing age, provided the comedy is truly on the side of the lonely, the neglected, and the unsuccessful, and plays its part in the war against established rules."

It's the birthday of writer and naturalist John Muir, (books by this author) born in Dunbar, Scotland (1838). In 1867, he was working at a carriage parts shop in Indianapolis when he almost lost one of his eyes in a freak accident. He later said, "I felt neither pain nor faintness, the thought was so tremendous that my right eye was gone — that I should never look at a flower again." He was so affected by the incident that he decided to quit his job and walk across the country, living as close to nature as possible.

He walked for a thousand miles, from Indianapolis to the Gulf of Mexico, and then he sailed to Cuba, Panama, and finally California, which would become his home for the rest of his life. He fell in love with the Sierra Mountains in California, and spent much of his time hiking and camping there. He also visited Alaska, South America, Australia, Africa, China, Europe, and Japan, studying plants, animals, rocks, and glaciers. He was largely responsible for the creation of Yosemite National Park in 1890, and in 1892, he helped found the Sierra Club. He also published many books, including The Mountains of California (1894).

It's the birthday of Charlotte Brontë, (books by this author) born in Thornton, Yorkshire, England (1816). She's the oldest of the three famous Brontë sisters. Anne wrote Agnes Grey (1847), Emily wrote Wuthering Heights (1847), and Charlotte wrote Jane Eyre (1847), about a smart, passionate governess working for a mysterious man named Mr. Rochester.

Wuthering Heights got mostly good reviews, and Jane Eyre was an even bigger success. But as soon as critics started to suspect that the novels were written by women, they turned against them, calling them "coarse," "unfeminine," and "anti-Christian." Within two years of the publication of Jane Eyre, all of Charlotte's siblings had died. She continued to write novels, including Villette (1853), but she was often sick and usually unhappy. She married her father's curate in 1854 but died soon after from complications with her pregnancy.

It's the birthday of humorist Josh Billings, born Henry Wheeler Shaw in Lanesboro, Massachusetts (1818). Billings said, "Don't take the bull by the horns, take him by the tail; then you can let go when you want to."

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




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