Jul. 20, 2006

Dr. Collin Simms

by Sue Ellen Thompson

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Poem: "Dr. Collin Simms" by Sue Ellen Thompson from The Golden Hour. © Autumn House Press, Pittsburgh. Reprinted with permission.

Dr. Collin Simms

We were living in England, where for fourteen
weeks I didn't know I was pregnant. Then
I rolled over in bed one morning
and felt a fist beneath me. My boyfriend

was in the upstairs bathroom, taking a shower.
An American acquaintance persuaded her doctor to meet
with us the next day. We took the Underground,
thrilled and silenced by the possibility.

There was an open fire at one end of the room,
a Persian rug and, behind his desk, a bay
window overlooking Harley Street. Afternoon
tea was served, and he called us by my maiden name.

Slipping behind a lacquered screen, I undressed.
Then he examined me: Oh my yes.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the poet Francesco Petrarca, (books by this author) better known as Petrarch, born in Arezzo, Italy (1304). He wrote epic poems in Latin that made him famous in his lifetime, but we know him for a book of his sonnets published after his death about a woman named Laura—the Canzoniere (1374) or "Song Book." They were the only poems he wrote in Italian.

Thanks in large part to Petrarch, writing sonnets became all the rage in Elizabethan England, when poets like Sir Walter Raleigh, Michael Drayton, and, most famously, William Shakespeare composed sonnet sequences.

It's the birthday of novelist Cormac McCarthy, (books by this author) born Charles McCarthy Jr. in Providence, Rhode Island (1933). He spent four years in the Air Force, went to the University of Tennessee, and then dropped out after just a couple years. He spent the next few years working on what would become his first novel, The Orchard Keeper. Over the next twenty-five years, McCarthy wrote four more novels. Most of them were set in rural Tennessee, and he was known for filling them with violence and bloodshed. In the late '70s, he moved to El Paso, Texas, and he set his next book, Blood Meridian, in the Texas of the 1850s. It was his most violent book yet, about a fourteen-year-old boy who roams around the West with a band of killers. The New York Times called it "the bloodiest book since the Iliad."

It wasn't until the publication of All the Pretty Horses in 1992 that McCarthy finally became widely recognized. It's about a sixteen-year-old Texas rancher who leaves his family and rides into northern Mexico looking to make his fortune. It won the National Book Award and sold almost 200,000 copies in less than six months. It's since been made into a Hollywood movie.

McCarthy doesn't do book tours or give lectures, and he's never taught or written journalism to support himself. He said, "There's no such thing as life without bloodshed. I think the notion that the species can be improved in some way, that everyone could live in harmony, is a really dangerous idea. Those who are afflicted with this notion are the first ones to give up their souls, their freedom. Your desire that it be that way will enslave you and make your life vacuous."

Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong became the first men to set foot on the moon on this day in 1969. Neil Armstrong was the first to walk on the moon, because he was closest to the door.

It was on this day in 1875 that the largest recorded swarm of locusts in American history descended upon the Great Plains. An estimated 3.5 trillion locusts made up the swarm. It was about 1800 miles long and 110 miles wide, ranging from Canada down to Texas.

The locusts blanketed the ground, nearly a foot deep. They ate nearly every living piece of vegetation in their path. Similar locust swarms occurred in the following years, but by the mid-1880s, the swarms died down. Within a few decades they were believed to be extinct.

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