Jun. 28, 2012

On the Road, between Toledo & Cincinnati, Late June

by Sebastian Matthews

Somewhere dead center in the day's drive
through this relentlessly flat state, the sky
darkens and fills up deepend blue,
and the word 'rain' comes to your lips
twenty seconds before the first waterballoon
droplets hit; and before you can think
or turn and say 'storm' here it comes
spilling out of its box like a load of grain.
The woman in the passenger seat
of a raggedly elegant convertible, top down,
laughs merrily, purse held over her head.
Motorcycles cluster under the awnings
of bridges, five, six, a whole family of Harleys:
Middle Americans for a brief spell
hobos, gathering around the fire
of manageable happenstance. We'll all
make it through. No twister coming to life
out of the yellowing swirl. No pile-up crash
in our cards. The rain subsiding, wipers
knocked back to intermittent, you drive on
through the burgeoning heat: crows
congregating in the backyards of trees,
fireworks stockpiling in the beds of pickups,
young girls towed behind speedboats
in inner tubes, shouting to each other
as they pass over the rotting corpse
of a deer that, a year-rounder told,
finally fell after a long winter
through the melting ice and settled
uneasily on the lake bottom.

"On the Road, between Toledo & Cincinnati, Late June" by Sebastian Matthews, from We Generous. © Red Hen Press, 2007. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It was on this day in 1948 that Shirley Jackson's short story "The Lottery" was published in The New Yorker (books by this author). She wrote it in two hours, and when it was published in 1948, hundreds of readers wrote to the magazine, many of them wanting to cancel their subscriptions because they were so upset by the story. Jackson later wrote: "On the morning of June 28, 1948, I walked down to the post office in our little Vermont town to pick up the mail. I was quite casual about it, as I recall — I opened the box, took out a couple of bills and a letter or two, talked to the postmaster for a few minutes, and left, never supposing that it was the last time for months that I was to pick up the mail without an active feeling of panic. By the next week I had to change my mailbox to the largest one in the post office, and casual conversation with the postmaster was out of the question, because he wasn't speaking to me."

It's the birthday of spy novelist Eric Ambler (books by this author), born in London (1909). His parents were entertainers: music-hall artists and puppeteers. He wanted to be a playwright, but when he was offered a scholarship to study electrical engineering, then wound up working as an advertising copywriter.

He thought that British spy novels were terrible. He published The Dark Frontier (1936), a parody, but he didn't like it. He was spending his free time reading Dostoevsky, Joyce, Gogol, and Nietzsche. A writer friend told him: "Never read very good writers when you are trying yourself to write good trash. You'll only get depressed." After The Dark Frontier, he stopped trying to write parodies, and started writing thrillers. His novels include Journey into Fear (1940), Passage of Arms (1959), and The Care of Time (1981).

It's the birthday of novelist Mark Helprin (books by this author), born in New York City (1947). He's the author of the novel Winter's Tale (1983). It is set in an alternative Belle Époque New York City; the main character is an orphan and burglar named Peter Lake who is protected by a flying horse. He falls in love with a dying girl when he breaks into her family's mansion in Manhattan. It was a best-seller. He said: "When people ask me why is Winter's Tale a fantasy, I point out that it is not [...] It is what writers used to do — what Dante and Shakespeare did — before science and reason ruled the world. Reason is a fine thing, but [...] it's just part of the arsenal of many things available to a storyteller. Revelation, for example."

He has written several novels since then, including Memoir from Antproof Case (2007), set in Brazil. A central theme of the novel is its protagonist's hatred of coffee. Helprin has never been to Brazil, and he said, "I've never had a cup of coffee in my life."

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




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