Sep. 28, 2007

Vancouver to Edmonton

by Barbara Bloom

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Poem: "Vancouver to Edmonton" by Barbara Bloom, from On the Water Meridian © Hummingbird Press, 2007. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Vancouver to Edmonton

Some of the passengers read; others sleep.
Beside me, my husband fills in the squares of his crossword—
word after word taking shape
as fast as he can write. No one
looks out the windows; even the children
are busy doing something else.

But outside, it's like we're in heaven,
with the puffy white clouds,
sun playing along the surface
so bright it's almost impossible to look,
but I look anyway. Then the clouds
give way to a glacial lake,
the aquamarine of a tropical ocean,
then snowfields,
sharp-sided peaks,
and forests so green they are almost black.

The man on the aisle seat
folds up his newspaper. My husband
adds another word
before closing his book.
An announcement comes on
to set our watches ahead an hour.
The toy fields, houses, and barns
take on more reality
as we begin our descent.
There's a green tractor! A barn with a red roof,
cows and horses grazing together. A dog
running out to meet a car.

Whether we were in heaven or not up there
seems beside the point now, as the plane lowers
over fields and highways,
and bumps down on the runway.
Soon we will be rushing out to hail cabs
or scanning the crowds in the airport
for the one familiar face, and the day
will push us forward, with its traffic,
its Mountain Time, its ordinary joys.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Kate Douglas Wiggin, (books by this author) born in Philadelphia, (1856), who wrote Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1910) and many other novels. She also started the first free kindergarten on the West Coast, in San Francisco. She spent much of her own life working as a teacher, and she once said, "Every child born into the world is a new thought of God, an ever-fresh and radiant possibility."

It's the birthday of cartoonist Al Capp, born Alfred Gerald Caplin in New Haven, Connecticut (1909), who created the cartoon strip Li'l Abner, about a hillbilly named Abner Yokum who lives with his parents Pansy and Lucifer Yokum, in Dogpatch, Kentucky, and who spends all his time trying to win the heart of Daisy Mae Scragg.

It's the birthday of Ed Sullivan, born in Manhattan, New York City (1902), a gossip columnist for the New York Daily News who occasionally moonlighted as a master of ceremonies for local variety shows and dance contests. He was working at a giant dance competition called the Harvest Moon Ball when someone asked him if he'd like to try hosting a show on this new thing called television. He was 46 years old.

The Ed Sullivan Show, originally called Toast of the Town, premiered live on CBS in 1948, and within a few years about 50 million people watched it every Sunday night. Television was so new at the time that people didn't know what to do with it. Sullivan modeled it on vaudeville and did a little of everything, throwing together opera singers, rock stars, novelists, poets, ventriloquists, magicians, pandas on roller skates, and elephants on water skis. Sullivan had always hated that he was required to "dish dirt" in his gossip columns, so he decided that on his variety show, everything would be positive. He told every performer that they were wonderful.

Sullivan was a shy, awkward man offstage, couldn't tell jokes or sing or dance. A car accident in 1956 severely damaged his face and his teeth, and he was often in terrible pain on stage, suffering from ulcers. But he loved performers, and he personally chose every guest for his show. He spent most of his free time searching for talent in nightclubs, often staying out until 4:00 in the morning.

Sullivan was one of the first television hosts to invite African-American performers and celebrities onto his show when it was still controversial to do so. Jackie Robinson, Duke Ellington, Richard Pryor, and James Brown all came on his show. His producers sometimes objected to his choices, but the only thing Sullivan cared about was talent.

He said his formula for success was, "Open big, have a good comedy act, put in something for children, and keep the show clean."

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




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