Jun. 21, 2008


by Philip Bryant

I heard the
locomotion behind
the album by Monk my father
was playing.
The finely tuned
machine humming like
a top, purring like a kitten.

The first time I
saw the Santa Fe "Super Chief"
at Union Station in Chicago,
gleaming as a silver bullet
carrying the blue uniformed
conductor who gave a low whistle
and "All Aboard" for places as far away as Kansas,
Laredo, Tucson, Las Vegas, Palm Springs.

At that point
I knew it all had
something to do with jazz music.
The slow hiss of
the engine, the steam
let out by the jowls of the locomotive,
and the massive, muscular wheels turning
slowly counterclockwise to the engine's beat

          Come on Baby Do the Locomotion
          Come on Baby Do the Locomotion With Me

heading out onto the open tracks,
that smoke-blown phrase repeated
over and over in my head through the years,
as miles of the real American landscape
began, slowly, to unfold.

"Locomotion" by Philip Bryant, from Sermon On A Perfect Spring Day. © New Rivers Press, 1998. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today is the summer solstice and the first day of summer in the Northern Hemisphere. On this day at noon, the North Pole of the Earth is tilted as far toward the sun as it gets during the course of the year: 23 degrees 27 minutes north latitude. This marks the Tropic of Cancer, along which lie Calcutta, India; Havana, Cuba; Hong Kong; and Mazatlán, Mexico. For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, today will be the longest day of the year and tonight will be the shortest night.

It's the birthday of novelist Ian McEwan, (books by this author) born in Aldershot, England (1948). His early works include the short-story collection First Love, Last Rites (1975) and the novels The Cement Garden (1978) and The Comfort of Strangers (1981) — and they garnered him the nickname of "Ian McAbre" because of recurring dark themes of violence, sadism, incest, and death. Asked by an interviewer if he was trying to shock people, he responded:

"I want my reader to be wholly engaged, gripped rather than shocked. I'm pleased when people tell me that they sat down and read Enduring Love in one sitting. In that respect, writers are like jealous lovers: 'I just want you to think of me.'"

Enduring Love (1997) begins with a fatal hot air balloon accident in which protagonist Joe Rose joins the rescue effort. At the scene, he exchanges glances with a bystander, Jed Parry, who suffers from de Clérambault's syndrome, or erotomania — in which the sufferer holds the delusional belief that another person is in love with him or her. The psychotic Jed Parry causes much devastation in Joe Rose's life.

The following year McEwan published Amsterdam, which he calls a "contemporary fable," in which three men meet for the first time at the funeral of their mutual lover. It won the Booker Prize in 1998.

Next came the novel Atonement (2001), widely considered his best work, which won numerous prizes and was named to several "Greatest Novels" lists. In 2007, Atonement was made into a movie.

Other novels of his that have been adapted to film include The Comfort of Strangers (1990), The Cement Garden (1993), The Innocent (1993), Solid Geometry (2002), and Enduring Love (2004).

It's the birthday of American critic and novelist Mary McCarthy, (books by this author) born in Seattle, Washington (1912). Her parents met at a coastal resort in the state of Washington, where her mother was an undergraduate student and her father in law school. She said that her parents were "handsome, winning, and romantic." Both of her parents died from the flu epidemic in 1918, when she was only six years old. She and her three younger brothers were sent to Minneapolis to live with "a severe great-aunt and her sadistic husband."

After graduating from Vassar in 1933, she wrote book reviews for The Nation and The New Republic and then became a theater critic and editor of Partisan Review. She left her lover Philip Rahv to marry literary critic Edmund Wilson in 1938, who encouraged her to begin creative writing.

Her autobiography, Memoirs of a Catholic Girlhood (1957), focused on the horrible early years at her abusive uncle and aunt's Minneapolis house and then her happier adolescent years in Seattle. In 1962, she published The Group, about eight recent Vassar graduates, which stayed on the New York Times best-seller list for nearly two years. She said, "People with bad consciences always fear the judgment of children."

It's the birthday of Jean-Paul Sartre, (books by this author) born in Paris, France (1905). His father died when he was 15 months old. When he was eight, he started writing plays, which he performed with hand puppets in the bathroom. In college, he fell in love with philosophy and literature. He kept a portrait of James Joyce on his dorm room wall. He met Simone de Beauvoir there, who became the love of his life. They promised never to tell each other lies, and also agreed that if they wanted they could take other lovers.

Sartre became a teacher. At a time when the European teaching style was lecturing from a distance, he drank with his students at local bars, played cards and ping-pong with them, and joined them for picnics on the beach. In his spare time he began to write a novel called Nausea (1938). The book was his first major success, and it made him famous. People called him the French Kafka. He went on to write Being and Nothingness (1943), about the meaning of freedom. He wrote, "Hell is other people." And, "If you are lonely when you're alone, you are in bad company."

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




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