A feeling of loyalty and loss runs through this week’s posts. In Iraq, a local SWAT team tries to avenge their families — and save their city. In a Bruce Springsteen song, a highway patrolman with a brother on the other side of the law says, “Man turns his back on his family, well he just ain’t no good.” In central Maine, a rural community turns out to say goodbye to a simple dairyman.
Luke Mogelson and “The Desperate Battle to Destroy ISIS.” This answer in a Q&A about Mogelson’s epic New Yorker article about the Mosul SWAT team has stayed with me: “I’ve always been struck by how little we talk about the trauma of people from Iraq and Afghanistan compared with how much we talk about the trauma of the Americans who have briefly visited those countries. … I’d say it points to a gap between the value we place on their lives and the value we place on our own. I’d say this gap defines much more than our discourse about trauma; it defines the politics, strategies and tactics that traumatize. I’d also say it is one of the major moral problems of our moment and, incidentally, one reason why terrorism works.”
The soundtrack: “Doomsday,” by Kasabian. This has a “brotherhood of death” feel to it that fits the SWAT team. It’s a song that demands to be played at full volume — I can imagine it being played that way before they go out to do battle.
One Great Sentence
“Well I chased him through them county roads / Till a sign said Canadian border five miles from here / I pulled over to the side of the highway and watched his taillights disappear.”
Bruce Springsteen, “Highway Patrolman,” from the (brilliant) 1982 album “Nebraska.” Read why we think it’s great.
Mary Pols and the rural lyricism of “Death of a Dairyman.” This story by Pols in the Portland Press Herald is absolutely lovely. It’s regional literary journalism at its best. Here’s what she has to say about Mainers, and writing about them: “When I was away from Maine for so many years, I always wanted to read the books set in Maine, and I often felt very disappointed with the sort of Cabot Cove-ization of my home state. It is something that I never, ever, ever want to do. But I don’t feel like I fight it, it’s not like it’s trying to seep in there. I think that native Mainers often have incredibly beautiful language. And I think there’s a lyricism. It doesn’t get called that very often, but I feel it when I’m talking to people. And they have a real gift with language. It’s so far beyond, “ayuh,” but that’s what people assume, I think.”
The soundtrack: “Seventy Odd Years,” by the Oshima Brothers. This is a local Maine band, two young brothers who play beyond their years. The song is about finding your home — in a place, or with a person. And it has added poignancy because the dairyman in the story was 70 when he died.
What I’m reading online: Even this week’s online reads are shot through with the theme of blood ties and loyalty. First off, there’s “Our Perfect Summer,” by David Sedaris in The New Yorker. He always manages to get the combination of funny and sweet just right. This may be my favorite line: “In the coming years, our father would continue to promise what he couldn’t deliver, and in time we grew to think of him as an actor auditioning for the role of a benevolent millionaire. He’d never get the part but liked the way that the words felt in his mouth.”
And I love “A Year of Gardening the Grave of a Stranger,” a story by Sydney Schaedel for the always reliable Atlas Obscura. In the program at an old Philadelphia cemetery, the story says, gardeners are assigned a “grave or two to tend as if it were a dear relative’s final resting place. It’s a creative outlet for city dwellers who may not have space for a garden at home, and it brightens up the cemetery.” One of the participants has a great line, saying that cemeteries are “parks with reading material.”
What’s on my bedside table: “The Drunken Forest,” by Gerald Durrell. I’m a huge fan of Durrell’s memoir about growing up in a quirky, nomadic family, “My Family and Other Animals.” So when I saw his name — and the adorable drawing — on the cover of this book, I had to get it. He might be the only writer who would get me to read a book about the fauna of South America. This line about a native bird is one reason why: “They surveyed me calmly with pale yellow eyes that had a glazed, dreamy expression in them, as though they were listening to distant and heavenly music too faint for mere mammals like myself to hear.”
What’s on my turntable: “Nebraska,” By Bruce Springsteen. When picking the lyric for the One Great Sentence above, I listened to this brilliant album by the light of a kerosene lamp as a firefly flashed nearby. The atmosphere seemed to amplify the album’s storylines of darkness and despair, but also flashes of hope and love.
If you want to chat about storytelling (or music), I’m Storyboard editor Kari Howard, and you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can find me at @karihow on Twitter.