Jan. 17, 2009

First Cutting

by Susie Patlove

What is the hayfield in late afternoon
that it can fly in the face of time,

and light can be centuries old, and even
the rusted black truck I am driving

can seem to be an implement born
of some ancient harvest,

and the rhythmic baler, which spits out
massive bricks tied up in twine,

can seem part of a time before now
because light glitters on the hay dust,

because the sun is sinking and we sweat
under the high arc of mid-summer,

because our bodies cast such long shadows—
Rebecca, with the baby strapped to her back,

the men who throw impossible weight
to the top of the truck, the black and white

dog that races after mice or moles
whose lives have been suddenly exposed.

How does the taste of my sweat take me
down through the gate of childhood,

spinning backwards to land in a field
painted by Bruegel, where the taste of salt

is the same, and the same heat
rises in waves off a newly flattened field.

In the duskiness of slanted light, we laugh
just as we laughed then, because there is

joy in what the earth gives, allowing
our bodies to mingle with it, our voices

small on the field, our work assuring the goats
can give milk, the sheep can grow wool,

and we will have in our bones the taste
of something so old it travels in light.

"First Cutting" by Susie Patlove, from Quickening. © Slate Roof, 2007. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of the poet William Stafford, (books by this author) born in Hutchinson, Kansas, in 1914. He usually wrote poetry in the early morning. He sat down with a pen and paper, looked out the window, and waited for something to occur to him. He wrote about farms and winter, about the West and his parents and cottonwood trees.

He wrote,

In the winter, in the dark hours, when others
were asleep, I found these words and put them
together by their appetites and respect for
each other. In stillness, they jostled. They traded
meanings while pretending to have only one.

And about his own writing, Stafford said, "I have woven a parachute out of everything broken."

It's the birthday of Benjamin Franklin, born in Boston (1706). He was one of the most famous leaders of the American Revolution. He invented bifocals and the glass harmonica, he charted the Gulf Stream on his way across the Atlantic, he chased tornadoes on horseback, and he founded America's first circulating public library. And as the author, printer, and publisher of Poor Richard's Almanac, he circulated adages such as "Little strokes fell great oaks," and "Early to bed and early to rise, Makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise."

It's the birthday of Muhammad Ali, born Cassius Clay in Louisville, Kentucky (1942). He started boxing when he was 12 years old, after his bicycle got stolen. He went to report the theft to the nearest police officer, who was coaching boxing practice at the time and invited Cassius to work out with his boxing program.

His motto was "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee." He won the world heavyweight boxing championship title in 1964, the same year that he converted to the Nation of Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali.

One of his coaches, Angelo Dundee, said, "Of all the fighters I've ever known, only he could make the heavy bag sing when he hit it. He ran 11 miles to the gym from the hotel and back every day along the causeway. He was always the first in and the last out of the gym. He is the most unspoiled kid I've ever had."

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




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