Archive for August, 2017

A Cricket’s Song

A ghostly curtain interposed
upon the dark of night,
the season’s first snowfall
is accompanied by
a cricket who has mistaken
our hearth’s glow for
summer’s resurrected warmth.

Companionless, but valiant,
despite accumulating
proof against summer’s return,
vociferous and insistent,
the cricket dreams a serenade,
its defiant thread woven
into our bed’s snug coziness.

That cricket’s song forecasts
a future it will never see,
too loud for silence to contain.
Defying winter’s gallows,
the tune is for what is to come;
its seed a dogged gene
another summer will replicate.


Sanctuary / William Faulkner

When Sanctuary was published in 1931, it was Faulkner’s fourth book.  Two previous novels, The Sound And The Fury and As I Lay Dying, are both considered classics today.  But it was Sanctuary that provided Faulkner with his first commercial and critical breakthrough.  I had read those two earlier novels and both proved to be complex works of art that stood out to me as among the best literature written in the Twentieth Century.  Expecting a repeat performance, I was taken aback when Sanctuary turned out to be a “potboiler,” having much in common with other works in that genre.

Set in fictional Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi, the story takes place in 1929.  It deals with a controversial topic, the rape and abduction of a well-bred Mississippi college girl, Temple Drake.  I can understand why audiences of the time were drawn to the book.  It dares to tackle a topic most authors in the 1930s refused to address, fearing censure and condemnation.  The novel proved to be an uncomfortable read for me, dealing with the dark side of Southern society at the time.  After all, it features rape, murder, and the lynching of an innocent man who is set ablaze by an angry crowd believing he was responsible for the rape of Temple Drake.  While Faulkner is to be commended for tackling a topic as dark and chilling as this one, it does not mean he succeeded in rising above the genre he was emulating.

The novel’s three main characters are Temple Drake, Popeye, and Horace Benbow.  Popeye is a criminal with an unsavory past, and the man who rapes Drake with a corncob, then kidnaps her.  He is someone who represents pure evil, and though impotent, he yet is able to dominate Temple and change her into a willing girl who submits to his perverted needs.  Benbow is the lawyer who represents the man accused of a murder that takes place at the time of Temple’s rape and abduction.

My problem with Sanctuary is that its only fully developed character is the lawyer Benbow.  Temple and Popeye remain mere caricatures, their actions left unexplained and at times challenging belief.  Faulkner is a gifted author and his prose at times elevated the work to admiration on my part.  But the bulk of the story seemed overblown, meant to shock, showing evil with no redeeming conclusion.  That is not necessarily a bad thing; however, I expected him to get beneath the skin of his characters, and he fails to do so for the most part.

Benbow is a decent person, but his heroism is overwhelmed by the villainy that darkens the rest of the book.  While it may have aroused the sadistic interest on the part of readers at the time, it failed to rise above “potboiler” status for me.  There is probably a reason this novel does not rank among Faulkner’s best remembered books.

Inferno : The World At War / Max Hastings

When I first decided to read this single volume history of the Second World War by noted British historian Max Hastings, I was skeptical that I would learn all that much more about the conflict. After all, as a history major in college, I had read numerous books on the topic. However, after diving into this 700+ page tome, I realized how many gaps existed in my full understanding of the war that took place from 1939 to 1945. The book’s in-depth scope and fluency quickly showed me I still had much to learn about America’s “Good War.”

In this highly readable book, Hastings covers the entire war, leaving no front inadequately described. To be able to condense its history into a single volume, he barely touches upon the politics or the civilian leadership that led to the outbreak of war. Instead, his focuses is on the unfolding battles and the personal accounts of the soldiers and civilians caught up in the conflict at ground level. While he leans to presenting the Allied perspective, the reader is also shown what the German and Japanese solders experienced, as well as their citizens who endured the horrors of aerial bombardment.

Hastings does a marvelous job of dispelling a good many myths surrounding the Second World War. As a fighting force, the American Army did not dominate on the field of battle. It was our country’s greater industrial war production that proved the determining factor of victory. The British armed forces did little to defeat the Japanese and German armies they faced throughout the war. It was their constant defiance to Germany’s might after the fall of France that kept the Germans from achieving victory. Russia did not beat the German army in the East because of better leadership or military skill. Stalin merely was able to overwhelm the Germans by ignoring incredibly high casualties, knowing they possessed many more soldiers to sacrifice in battle. Most of the French population did not begin to resist the Germans until well after the tide of war had turned against Hitler’s armies. A good many battles against the Japanese in the Pacific were unnecessary, having more to do with various American generals seeking glory.

For anyone well-versed on this war or those approaching it will little knowledge, Inferno will be an enlightening read. Hastings’ presentation is balanced and provides a good many insights that will challenge readers’ pre-conceptions of what took place. Far from being the “good war,” it was a brutal and tragic conflict that featured cruelty and ethical violations exhibited by both sides. What really sold me on this account were the personal stories of the people who experienced the war first-hand, combatants and civilians alike.

Journey Into The Whirlwind / Eugenia Semyonovna Ginzburg

Eugenia Semyonovna Ginzburg was a professor and an active member of the Communist Party who, in 1937, was caught up in Stalin’s Great Purge. Accused of participating in a “counter-revolutionary group,” she was found guilty and sentenced to ten years of solitary confinement. Journey Into The Whirlwind is her account of the events leading up to her arrest and the first three years of imprisonment. Ultimately, Ginzburg would spend the next eighteen years in the Russian gulag system.

Stalin’s Great Purge was a campaign of political repression in the Soviet Union. From 1936 to 1938 it involved a large-scale purge of the Communist Party and its government officials, all who were accused of being “saboteurs” or “counter-revolutionaries,” most found guilty based on forced confessions after being tortured. It has been estimated that at least 600,000 people died during this Purge. Ginzburg, who never did confess despite months of daily interrogations, barely escaped execution and was given a ten-year sentence of solitary confinement.

Ginzburg had two young children at the time of her arrest, neither of whom she was to see for the next eighteen years. After she was found guilty, her husband was also arrested, and he later died while imprisoned. Her parents, too, were arrested, and while soon released, they were stripped of all their possessions. Only the first year of Ginzburg’s sentence was actually spent in solitary confinement. Because the prison system was so overcrowded with other accused Party members, during her second year another woman shared her cell. After that, both were shipped to Siberia for hard labor in a number of different camps where a majority of the inmates died of starvation or disease within the first few years of their arrival.

Journey Into The Whirlwind is a heart-breaking account of all that she and the other women prisoners around her endured from 1937 to 1940. It is also an uplifting story of her indefatigable spirit and the kindness of fellow prisoners who provided support at various times when she was near death herself. This book was written after her release following Stalin’s death and was first published in 1967 after it was smuggled out of Russia.

Ginzburg has an amazing eye for detail and her story of survival is a gripping one from beginning to end. The book is considered a classic account of Stalin’s reign of terror during the 1930s. It deserves a place on everyone’s reading list. With honest poignancy, she created a “lest-we-forget” masterpiece that will continue to resonate with readers for generations to come. Words of praise fail me…all I can do is encourage the curious to seek out this book at their public library.

All Fools’ Day

Almost Spring, but not quite.
The road it takes us on is never direct.
Impatient with cabin fever,
we often forget to ask, “Captain, may I.”
For every two steps forward,
it is another one back to the day before.
On this All Fools’ Day,
a courageous crocus telescopes through
the crusted snow as
daylight’s warmth collects in puddles to
contradict the lingering chill.
But April daydreams turn slippery when
darkness nips hope’s bud.
Tonight’s highway will provide no escape.

So close, yet so far away.
Walking beneath a sky now jagged with
the shards of ancient suns,
I suddenly recall an afternoon as distant,
the time Father came home
to announce it was a day to be foolish.
How we three children
battled him with misaimed snowballs
and jumped into icy puddles
with his laughter encouraging ours.
In his arms, he smelled
Spring fresh as he carried us indoors.
Almost, but not quite.
Once inside, he hardened like starlight.

Ice Skaters

We timidly tiptoe from the shore,
wary of every creak,
not trusting our full weight on its
slippery ballroom floor.
Lured by an orchestrating wind,
a couple, teenagers still,
are already out over their heads,
intoxicated by the dance.
Bold laughter echoes the music
that fills their eyes.
Laced into blades sharp enough
to draw warm blood
or a gush of icy water from below,
on fresh sea legs
they twirl, whirl and dare to taunt
the depths underneath.
Moon drunk and in starring roles,
the stage is theirs alone.
To them, at sixteen, tragedy is
an old wives’ tale
since forever seems unbreakable
and love’s invisibility is
firm ground for entwined dreams.
Joined hand in hand,
still eluding Time’s envious glance,
the weight of years
has yet to crack beneath their feet.