Sunday Dec. 28, 2014

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The End of the Holidays

We drop you at O’Hare with your young husband,
two slim figures under paradoxical signs:
United and Departures. The season’s perfect oxymoron.
Dawn is a rumor, the wind bites, but there are things
fathers still can do for daughters.
Off you go looking tired and New Wave
under the airport’s aquarium lights,
with your Coleman cooler and new, long coat,
something to wear to the office and to parties
where down jackets are not de rigeur.
Last week winter bared its teeth.
I think of summer and how the veins in a leaf
come together and divide
come together and divide.
That’s how it is with us now
as you fly west toward your thirties
I set my new cap at a nautical angle, shift
baggage I know I’ll carry with me always
to a nether hatch where it can do only small harm,
haul up fresh sail and point my craft
toward the punctual sunrise.

“The End of the Holidays” by Mark Perlburg, from The Impossible Toystore. © Louisiana State University Press, 2000. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

It was on this day in 1895 that Auguste and Louis Lumière had the first commercial movie screening at the Grand Café in Paris. An audience paid to watch their film “Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory.” It was short, 46 seconds long, a single shot with a static camera. It showed a concierge opening the factory gates at the end of the day’s work, from which dozens of workers poured into the street, some walking, some on bicycle. It ended with the concierge closing the gates again.

Today in 1973, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's mammoth 260,000-word history of the Soviet prison camp system, The Gulag Archipelago, was published in Paris, France. The book is based on Solzhenitsyn's experiences in the camps for eight years, as well as 227 other inmates he interviewed. When the book was released in the Soviet Union, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was arrested and exiled, but he was also finally able to go to Sweden and collect the Nobel Prize in literature he had been awarded in 1970.

It’s the birthday of novelist Charles Portis (books by this author), born in El Dorado, Arkansas (1926). He was the London correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune from 1960 to 1964, when he left to write fiction. His first novel, Norwood (1966), received some notice, but it was his second book, True Grit (1968), that brought him critical and popular success. It’s the story of an Arkansas 14-year-old named Mattie Ross who wants to avenge the murder of her father. She enlists the aid of Rooster Cogburn, a washed-out but still tough United States marshal.

It’s the birthday of the novelist Simon Raven (books by this author), born in London (1927). He was a free thinker and a libertine who had planned to become a literature professor, but he said, “I very soon concluded that nothing would induce me to read, let alone make notes on, hundreds and hundreds of very, very, very boring books.” Raven turned to writing fiction instead.

He’s best known for his 10-volume series of novels about the British upper class, called Alms for Oblivion, the first volume of which was published in 1964.

He said: “I’ve always written for a small audience consisting of people like myself, who are well-educated, worldly, skeptical, and snobbish (meaning that they rank good taste over bad). And who believe that nothing and nobody is special.”

It’s the birthday of the man who popularized the saying, “With great power there must also come — great responsibility!” That’s Stan Lee (books by this author), born Stanley Lieber in New York City (1922). The line comes from the Spider-Man comic, about a teenager who’s bitten by a radioactive spider and becomes a crime-fighting superhero. Stan Lee also helped create the Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, and the X-Men. In addition to their capes and tights, Lee’s heroes often possess very human fears and insecurities.

It’s the birthday of comedian Sam Levenson, born in Brooklyn (1911). He said, “Lead us not into temptation. Just tell us where it is; we’ll find it.”

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