Aug. 15, 2006

Kansas, 1973

by Floyd Skloot

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Poem: "Kansas, 1973" by Floyd Skloot from The End of Dreams. © Louisiana State University Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Kansas, 1973

My daughter nestled in a plastic seat
is nodding beside me as though in full
agreement with the logic of her dream.
I am glad for her sake the road is straight.
But the dark shimmer of a summer road
where hope and disappointment repeat
themselves all across Kansas like a dull
chorus makes the westward journey seem
itself a dream. She breathes in one great
gulp, taking deep the blazing air, and stops
my heart until she sighs the breath away.
The sun is stuck directly overhead.

I thought it would never end. The drive,
the heat, my child beside me, the bright day
itself, that fathering time in my life.
We were going nowhere and never would,
as in a dream, or in the space between
time and memory. I saw nothing but sky
beyond the horizon of still treetops
and nothing changing down the road ahead.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of contemporary poet Mary Jo Salter, (books by this author) born in Grand Rapids, Michigan (1954). She's the author of several collections of poetry, including Sunday Skaters (1994), A Kiss in Space (1999), and Open Shutters (2003).

It's the birthday of food writer Julia Child, (books by this author) born Julia McWilliams in Pasadena, California (1912). She was a tomboy growing up, and never cooked anything. She grew to be more than six feet tall, and when she went to college she wanted to be a basketball star. She eventually changed her mind and tried to write a novel, but that didn't work out either.

She became interested in gourmet food while working for the Office of Strategic Service during World War II. She started taking cooking lessons, and she studied at Le Cordon Bleu, the famous school of French cooking. While in France, she joined an elite gastronomic society of women called "The Circle of Gourmets."

She wrote her first cookbook with two members of the society. In the first draft, she wrote eight hundred pages about poultry alone, but her publisher convinced her to cut back on the length. Mastering the Art of French Cooking was published in 1961. It was called the best book about French cooking ever written in English. She appeared on a TV program to talk about her book, and demonstrated how to make one of the recipes. A television producer saw her, thought she was a madwoman, and gave her her own cooking show.

It's the birthday of novelist Edna Ferber, (books by this author) born in Kalamazoo, Michigan (1885). She wrote many best-selling novels in her lifetime, but is best known for Show Boat (1926), about a family that runs a theater on a boat. The novel was the basis for the musical with songs by Oscar Hammerstein and Jerome Kern.

It's the birthday of essayist Thomas De Quincey, (books by this author) born in Manchester, England (1785). He's best known as the author of Confessions of an English Opium Eater (1822), the first drug addiction memoir, which greatly influenced later generations of bohemian writers, from Charles Baudelaire to William S. Burroughs.

De Quincey began using opium at a time when it was a perfectly legal, common painkiller, sold in liquid form as laudanum. He was a nineteen-year-old college student when he had his first experience with the drug. It was a rainy Sunday afternoon, and he'd been suffering from a toothache.

De Quincy soon dropped out of college and started reading Romantic poetry. He bummed around, hung out with intellectuals, and impressed everyone he met with his brilliant conversation. He became friends with Coleridge and Wordsworth, who encouraged him to write, but he was a terrible procrastinator and never got anything done, especially since he was taking opium every day. Finally, instead of quitting opium in order to write, he decided to write about taking opium, and his anonymous memoir became a huge best-seller.

It's the birthday of Sir Walter Scott, (books by this author) born in Edinburgh, Scotland (1771). His novels such as Rob Roy (1818) and Ivanhoe (1819) were among the first novels taken seriously by scholars and critics. He started out as a poet in 1796. He didn't handle money well, though, and to pay off his debts, he decided to publish a novel, which back then was like deciding to write for a soap opera. To protect his reputation, he published the novel Waverley (1814) anonymously, and it became a huge best-seller.

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