Tuesday Apr. 28, 2015

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Things to Do in the Belly of the Whale

Measure the walls. Count the ribs. Notch the long days.
Look up for blue sky through the spout. Make small fires
with the broken hulls of fishing boats. Practice smoke signals.
Call old friends, and listen for echoes of distant voices.
Organize your calendar. Dream of the beach. Look each way
for the dim glow of light. Work on your reports. Review
each of your life’s ten million choices. Endure moments
of self-loathing. Find the evidence of those before you.
Destroy it. Try to be very quiet, and listen for the sound
of gears and moving water. Listen for the sound of your heart.
Be thankful that you are here, swallowed with all hope,
where you can rest and wait. Be nostalgic. Think of all
the things you did and could have done. Remember
treading water in the center of the still night sea, your toes
pointing again and again down, down into the black depths.

“Things to Do in the Belly of the Whale” by Dan Albergotti from The Boatloads. © BOA Editions, Ltd., 2008. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

Today is the birthday of geologist and astronomer Eugene Shoemaker, born in Los Angeles in 1928. He graduated from the California Institute of Technology at the age of 19, and he earned his master's degree a year later. He went to work for the United States Geological Survey, and studying the Earth sparked in him an interest in the moon. He tried to convince the USGS that he should do a geological map of its surface, and would have loved to go there himself, but he was diagnosed with Addison's disease in 1963, which put an end to his astronaut aspirations.

He was particularly interested in the formation of meteor impact craters, and so, with the help of his wife, Carolyn, he studied asteroids that had the potential to crash into planets or moons. He discovered 32 comets, which now bear his name, and was thrilled when, in 1994, one of those comets, Shoemaker-Levy 9, crashed into Jupiter — the first collision of two solar system bodies ever observed.

Shoemaker was killed in a car accident in 1997, and at the suggestion of one of his students, his cremated remains were placed aboard the Lunar Prospector, an orbiter on a mission to map the moon. When its battery ran out at the end of its mission, the orbiter crashed onto the surface of the moon, and there his ashes remain, in a capsule engraved with a quote from Romeo and Juliet:

And, when he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night,
And pay no worship to the garish sun.

It’s the birthday of Lois Duncan (1934) (books by this author), an author known chiefly for her suspense novels for teen readers. She was born in Philadelphia, grew up in Sarasota, Florida, and submitted her first story to a magazine at the age of 10. By 13, she had made her first sale, and she wrote magazine articles for publications like Seventeen throughout high school. She's best known for the books that were made into movies: Hotel for Dogs (1971) and I Know What You Did Last Summer (1973).

In 1992, she wrote a true crime book about the unsolved murder of her youngest child, 18-year-old Kaitlyn Arquette, in Albuquerque. Police called it a random shooting, but Kaitlyn's boyfriend was involved in organized crime and Duncan believes the gang killed her daughter to keep her quiet. She told an interviewer: "My dream is to write a sequel to Who Killed My Daughter? to give our family's true-life horror story a closure. Of course, for that to be possible, Kait's case must be solved."

And today is the birthday of poet Carolyn Forché (books by this author), born in Detroit in 1950. A human rights activist as well as a poet, she's committed to what she calls "the poetry of witness," and this has opened her up to criticism, especially in the United States, from those who believe poetry and politics should be separate concerns. She says that, in other countries, "The poets are more expected to be intellectuals and to have an active interest in history and politics and everything going on. They're not expected to be sequestered in a literary culture. They're not expected to have no opinions about events in the world. They're expected to have more seriously considered opinions because they're poets — and not necessarily predictable opinions." Her anthology, Against Forgetting (1993), collects the work of international poets who had suffered imprisonment, torture, and exile.

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