Thursday

Jun. 19, 2003

Sun and Rain

by W. S. Merwin

THURSDAY, 19 JUNE 2003
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Poem: "Sun and Rain," by W. S. Merwin from Flower & Hand (Copper Canyon Press).

Sun and Rain

Opening the book at a bright window
above a wide pasture after five years
I find I am still standing on a stone bridge
looking down with my mother at dusk into a river
hearing the current as hers in her lifetime

now it comes to me that that was the day
she told me of seeing my father alive for the last time
and he waved her back from the door as she was leaving
took her hand for a while and said
nothing

at some signal
in a band of sunlight all the black cows flow down the pasture together
to turn uphill and stand as the dark rain touches them

Literary Notes:

It's the birthday of short story writer and memoirist Tobias Wolff, born in Birmingham, Alabama (1945). He joined the Army and served in Vietnam. When he returned to the United States, he supported himself with odd jobs. In 1976, the Atlantic Monthly accepted his story "Smokers" which was the first story he ever submitted for publication. He went on to write several collections of short stories, but he's best know for This Boy's Life, (1989), a memoir about his childhood that was made into a movie with Robert DeNiro and Leonardo DiCaprio.

It's the birthday of film critic Pauline Kael, born in Petaluma, California (1919). She was the film critic for the New Yorker magazine for almost twenty-five years. In college at the University of California at Berkeley she majored in philosophy, and then bummed around, getting involved in experimental filmmaking and unsuccessful playwriting. She published her first movie review in 1953 in the San Francisco magazine City Lights. Her first review was of Charles Chaplin's Limelight, which she called "Slimelight." After that her work began to appear in Partisan Review and Film Quarterly. She supported herself working as a seamstress, cook, and textbook ghostwriter, among other jobs. Afraid that she would end up a secretary, she never learned to type, and wrote all her reviews on a notepad in pencil. In 1965, she published a collection of movie reviews and essays on film criticism called I Lost It at the Movies, and it became a bestseller. In 1967, she got a job as the critic for the New Yorker, and she tried to persuade the readers of the magazine that the most important thing a movie should provide is pleasure. She always made a lot of noise while she was watching movies: laughing, sighing, and gasping if she liked the movie, or loudly making jokes if she didn't.

It's the birthday of Salman Rushdie, born in Bombay, India (1947), two months before India's first day of independence. He comes from a wealthy Muslim family. He started going to school in England as a teenager, and he didn't get along with his classmates, who made fun of his accent. While he was in school, life was growing more dangerous for Muslims in India. Rushdie's parents moved to Pakistan, and Rushdie was crushed. He didn't like England, he didn't like Pakistan, and now he couldn't go home to Bombay. He tried working as a journalist in Pakistan, but there was too much censorship, so he went back to England and tried to become a writer. After his first novel Grimus (1975), didn't do well, he decided he needed to write a book about India. The novel was called Midnight's Children (1981). It was about a man who was born on the precise moment that India gained independence, and it tells the story of his family and the story of modern India. The book was a huge success, among Westerners and Indians. It won the Booker prize, and Rushdie became the leader of so-called "post-colonial literature". Later when Rushdie published the Satanic Verses in 1987, most western critics didn't notice that it would be offensive to Muslims. In the book, Rushdie makes a lot of obscure jokes about the Islamic religion, he names the whores in a Mecca brothel after the Prophet Muhammed's wives, and he suggests that the Koran was not the direct word of God. The book was banned in some places and burned in others. There were bomb threats called into the publishing house. People in Pakistan read the offensive passages on the street. There was a riot in Kashmir over the book, and The Ayatollah Khomeini saw scenes from the riot on Iranian television in which police shot demonstrators. The Ayatollah announced that "all zealous Muslims of the world" should try to find Rushdie wherever he was and kill him. Rushdie went into hiding for nine years.


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