Friday

Jun. 14, 2002

Looking West from Laguna Beach at Night

by Charles Wright

FRIDAY, 14 JUNE 2002
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Poem:
"Looking West from Laguna Beach at Night," by Charles Wright from Chickamauga (Farrar Straus Giroux).

Looking West from Laguna Beach at Night

I've always liked the view from my mother-in-law's house at night,
Oil rigs off Long Beach
Like floating lanterns out in the smog-dark Pacific,
Stars in the eucalyptus,
Lights of airplanes arriving from Asia, and town lights
Littered like broken glass around the bay and back up the hill.

In summer, dance music is borne up
On the sea winds from the hotel's beach deck far below,
"Twist and Shout," or "Begin the Beguine."
It's nice to think that somewhere someone is having a good time,
And pleasant to picture them down there
Turned out, tipsy and flushed, in their white shorts and their
turquoise shirts.

Later, I like to sit and look up
At the mythic history of Western civilization,
Pinpricked and clued through the zodiac.
I'd like to be able to name them, say what's what and how who got
where,
Curry the physics of metamorphosis and its endgame,
But I've spent my life knowing nothing.



Today is Flag Day. On this day, two hundred and twenty-five years ago, the Continental Congress adopted the Stars and Stripes as the official banner of the thirteen original United States.

It's the birthday of novelist Mona Simpson, born in Green Bay, Wisconsin (1957). She's the author of the novels Anywhere But Here (1986), The Lost Father (1991), A Regular Guy (1996) and Off Keck Road (2000). She had a brother who was put up for adoption by their parents when he was a child. That brother, Apple Computer founder Steve Jobs, later tracked down his sister, and the two of them became close friends. There was a brief rift between the two of them when her novel A Regular Guy came out, featuring a main character who was a Silicon Valley whiz kid.

It's the birthday of novelist Carolyn Chute, born in Portland, Maine (1947). Her first novel was based on the backwoods people she knew and the life of poverty she herself had led; it was The Beans of Egypt Maine (1985). She followed up her first success with five more novels, including Letourneau's Used Auto Parts (1988) and Merry Men (1994).

It's the birthday of novelist, short story writer, and memoirist John Edgar Wideman, born in 1941. He was recruited by the University of Pennsylvania on a basketball scholarship, and played his way to a spot in the Philadelphia Big Five Basketball Hall of Fame. In his latest book, Hoop Roots (2001), he writes about the playground basketball games he used to play as a boy.

It's the birthday of the long-time chief daily book reviewer for the New York Times, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, born in Edinburgh, Scotland (1934). He joined the staff of the New York Times Book Review in 1965, and took over as senior daily book reviewer in 1969.

It's the birthday of novelist Jerzy Kosinski, born in Lodz, Poland (1933). After the Nazis occupied Poland in 1939, his well-to-do Jewish parents sent him to live in the countryside. His nightmarish experiences there later inspired his first novel, The Painted Bird (1965). He also had successes with his next two novels, Steps (1968) and Being There (1971).

It's the birthday of novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe, born in Lichfield, Connecticut (1811). In 1850, she and her husband moved to Brunswick, Maine-but even that far north she couldn't escape the issue of slavery. The Fugitive Slave Law was passed in that year, requiring free states to return run-away slaves to their owners. Stowe, an abolitionist, poured all of her outrage at the new law into a novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852). The book sold over three hundred thousand copies in its first year, and helped to solidify Northern opposition to slavery.

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

 









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