de su amigo
Photo of the 1953 Scribners edition of The Short Stories Of Ernest Hemingway taken in Paris in May 2014.
© 2014 nightpoet all rights reserved
de su amigo
Photo of the 1953 Scribners edition of The Short Stories Of Ernest Hemingway taken in Paris in May 2014.
© 2014 nightpoet all rights reserved
Good morning! In the continuing series of Old Correspondences To Long Forgotten Paramours being excavated out of long forgotten dusty digital files, this morning I offer an excerpt from a letter that briefly addresses the subjects of Men Dealing With Change and The Development Of A Believable Character, to be taken in the spirit of tongue in cheek, or if you prefer, thumb in cheek. It all began when the gentleman was informed that the lady had trimmed her hair…
“Ah, young lady, what is it about women, that they just don’t understand a basic thing about men? You see, women love change. They change their clothes, they change their hair, they change their makeup, they change their shoes, why they even change their minds from time to time. Men just don’t understand this. Men don’t like change, they like things to stay the same, you know, to hold steady, to maintain the course. Men feel uncomfortable with change, whereas women wear it like nature wears the seasons, with grace and ease. Women flow with change, for them it’s like poetry in motion. Men stumble over it and define it as a four letter word. Men will never understand change and women will continue changing, if only to keep irritating men…”
(Here please submit photo documentation of the extent to which hair was trimmed. Emergency phone numbers, should the gentleman requesting the documentation go into cardiac arrest upon viewing said photo, should be available in your cell phone).
“Now, you were saying that any writing about making love should be timeless and all inclusive, that it should be fantasy. Well, I’ll go along with the thought that what happens, how it happens, where it happens and when it happens can be written as fantasy, but the all important description and definition of the physical aspects of the whole process have to be based on realistic, accurate information. I do not want to write about a generic mannequin with vague physical attributes. I would want to be writing about making love to someone I really care about, a portrait of someone I can paint with colour and feeling, with truth and accuracy. Height, colour of eyes, colour and length of hair (see section on change above), shape and size of breasts, thighs, buttocks, back, legs, arms, neck, stomach, hands, feet, information about passionate response, auditory reactions, an accurate description of the fertile valley in the rainy season, all these things are absolutely essential to the understanding of how to create a realistic and believable character. The fact that you lather up so readily is an excellent example of the kind of information needed here. A beautiful image that needs further clarification and embellishment…”
(Here please submit a complete itemized and accurate summary of all the important details covered above and add anything else you might consider as beneficial to the development of a full and erotic character portrayal).
September 1st, 2011
Photo of Breakfast No. 1 at Haltbar, 9:00 AM February 8th 2014
© 2014 nightpoet all rights reserved
LOOKING BACK IN WONDER, BUTTERFLY DAYS IN SUMMER…
Sometimes my mind slips back to the life left behind in the 1950’s, before we moved to Europe. We lived in a military housing project directly outside the main gate to Aberdeen Proving Grounds, where my father was stationed. That was a magical time, a time of discovery. A carefree world of guiltless play, childhood fantasy and imaginative wonder. There were butterfly days in the summer when I’d chase down the Tiger Swallowtails and then alcohol them into butterfly heaven, mount them and trade them to my friends for toys, naturally upsetting their parents, who didn’t appreciate the work and skill I had to put into the enterprise. I’d have to return the toys and take back my butterflies…
There were the days when I’d play with my friends; we’d often play Army, either running around fighting battles with hand me down helmets and ammo belts and canteens from our dads or playing with Army men and jeeps, tanks and trucks. But we also pretended that we were adventurers, explorers. Off behind the housing area a long stretch of beautiful woods, along the sides of a small ravine, ran down to the shores of the Chesapeake Bay. The sunlight would filter down through the canopy of leaves in a soft golden summer shower and the wind would whisper its secrets in our ears when we would stop for a moment and listen. And there were many secrets. We were wise, even then, but no one knew it. This was, of course, a paradise as a playground for seven, eight and nine-year olds…
One Christmas, when I was seven years old, I received my greatest wish and was given a dinosaur set. Though interested even before that in things prehistoric, from that moment on it became the main theme of playing in those woods. There were dinosaurs living in the hidden coves and corners of that ravine. All of this was given visual imagery for me too, by a film my parents took me to see at the drive in movies, probably in 1957, called “The Beast Of Hollow Mountain,” one of those great stop action dinosaur films making the rounds in the theatres and drive ins. In those woods there was a crevice that cut into the side of the ravine, whether made by man or nature I never knew, revealing open layers of dirt and rocks. I always envisioned it as a place where a Tyrannosaurus, sleeping for eons, had awakened and broken free from his grave and stalked off to hunt us when we explored our wooded wonderland. And if anyone were to doubt the possibility of that scenario, there were fossils to be found scattered about in their hiding places to add to the authenticity of our prehistoric playground…
Back then my best buddy was a tousle-headed red-haired kid named Joey. We were down one day at the end of the ravine, where it fanned out and became the shoreline of the Bay. There we somehow discovered, and with great difficulty excavated, a large flat rock covered with very well preserved fossils of crinoids. Of course we didn’t know what they were called but we had seen them in books. They were so well preserved that we were afraid to take it home and show our parents, lest (I can’ today imagine why we would have thought this) they ask too many questions or think that we might have stolen it. I mean, it was really a museum piece. We also weren’t quite sure how we were going to allocate the ownership. The decision to sneak it upstairs to Joey’s room and hide it on the upper shelf in his closet was our mistake. When we went to look for it a few days later we discovered that his mother had found it and tossed it in the trash. A fossil treasure reclaimed by the Earth via a landfill I suppose. But there were other things to discover…
One day, walking alone down the trail through the woods alone I came upon a great oak tree one always passed on that path. But this time I happened to look down at its roots and noticed a smooth rounded stone sticking up between two large roots at the tree’s base. It didn’t look natural and I spent the next two hours slowly digging what turned out to be a long smooth thick cigar-shaped stone that obviously, even to an eight-year-old kid, looked like it had been shaped and smoothed by an unknown hand. It reminded me of a rolling-pin. I took the hard earned treasure home, showed it to my parents who also found it very interesting. Eventually one of their friends identified it as an Indian maize roller, or corn grinder, used to grind the corn into flour. Proudly carrying it around the neighbourhood to show my friends, at some point I dropped it on the sidewalk and it broke into two evenly sized pieces, in which form it stayed upon various shelves in various habitations until some thirty-five years later, when I was working as an archaeologist and I had the restaurateur in our bureau restore it to one piece again. It now occupies an honoured place on a shelf in my living room…
Joey had an older sister who was probably about fourteen or fifteen and going up to his room I’d pass by hers, and if the door was open and I’d steal a glance in, having the door quickly slammed in my face if she happened to catch me. There within were all the trappings of a late 1950’s teenage girl’s room. Posters from magazines of Elvis and Fabian on the walls, pink bedspreads with fringe, a forty-five RPM record player with singles scattered about and usually Elvis crooning out a tune, bobby socks strewn about on the floor and a pair of penny loafers. If his sister was to be seen she’d usually be in there with a friend or two in jeans with rolled up cuffs, a blouse with the loose ends knotted in the front and her hair up in huge curlers, upon which the door would once again be slammed quickly shut…
The memory of the first incident of sexual awakening comes from this time too, if you can even call it that. I must have been about eight and would play with a girl who was at the most eleven, possibly twelve. She was into playing horses, as girls go through that phase at that age and I thought that there was nothing wrong with that, so we played together, even though my other male friends would have thought I was crazy to play such “girlie” games. But I liked playing with her, she was intriguing to me, a bit bossy because she was older, but also friendly and, well, very cute. And then too, she had asked me if I’d like to play with her. That counted for something. Playing together was sort of our secret. I made sure that my role in the game was masculine enough, that of a cowboy or a rancher. We would run across the close cut lawns between the apartment houses and a line of large shady trees. That was the horse meadow where she ran free and I, as the cowboy rancher, would try to chase her down…
Now at that age in the 1950’s you had no idea about sex. Or perhaps it would be better to say you had lots of ideas but no accurate information. My friends were convinced that babies formed in women’s breasts, but hadn’t a clue about how they got there. I wasn’t buying that theory because I’d seen too many pregnant women with their bloated bellies. This was, at any rate, not the kind of thing you asked your parents about, or if you did you got some sort of confusing gobbledygook for an answer…
One hot late summer afternoon we’d been running around for a while. I’d caught her a couple of times, and somehow that was always a nice feeling, the closeness of her face when I’d wrap my arms around her, the clean smell of her hair and the strange scent of her body. I was smart enough not to catch her every time, although I’m sure I could have. Anyway, on this afternoon we’d been running for some time and now agreed to take a breather in the shade of those trees. She stood facing me, a few feet in front of me. She was wearing a very loose-fitting light blue small checkered cotton blouse, buttoned half way, that is, just two buttons, down the front, the other two bottom ones being unbuttoned. A slight wind came up and, as she stood there, lifted one side of the blouse up, exposing a very flat chest and a nipple, only for a few seconds before the blouse slid back down to where it belonged. I had observed all of this as if it had happened in slow motion and I felt something inside me go “boing!” She was aware of nothing I’m certain, but that one small moment had awakened a feeling in me that I hadn’t known before and that stayed with me for the rest of my life. When I went home that evening that was all I could think about, that brief glimpse of a small brown nipple on her white flat chest. Even though what I had seen didn’t look that much different from my chest, I could sense the subtle sublime feeling that indeed, it was very different. I don’t think that we ever played together much again after that, soon the end of summer was upon us and school began, leaving little time to corral fantasy horses and peruse small brown nipples. And, as was the norm for an Army brat, at some point her father got transferred and they moved away…
Route 40 ran north-south straight through Aberdeen and running parallel to it on the eastern side there were the railroad tracks. The main shopping district and town centre was west of Route 40. I can remember, before we lived in the government housing, when we lived a bit closer to the downtown area in a small house east of the railroad tracks. I’d lie awake on a humid summer night with the window open and hear the big rigs rolling up and down Route 40 or the freight trains clacking by in the distance, their horns fading as the moved on. If you were headed east from the centre of town and crossed the railroad tracks, just past the crossing there was a street to the right that led down to the freight station. And down along that street there was a small café and donut shop. It was the hangout for all the local Beatniks. Now, they had really great donuts so my mother would drop by there on the way back from a Saturday afternoon of shopping to pick up a dozen. And she’d let me go in with her. It was a completely different world. No bobby socks and penny loafers. In the dimly lit, smoke-filled interior were small tables, around which sat teenagers in turtleneck sweaters and jeans, the girls with long hair and black slacks or skirts with black leotards. In the corner there might be a guy sitting with a guitar, or the jukebox might be on. No rock and roll here, only the smooth wail of some cool saxophone jazz softly filling the room. I loved going there. It was so completely different from anything I had ever seen. And somehow, even as a kid, I thought that my mother enjoyed stopping by there too, not just for the donuts, but to see what was going on. At any rate, it was my first exposure to what one would later call an alternative life style. And it planted a seed…
There are a few other memories I have from that period. On the base there was a soft ice cream stand. Something like Mr. Softee or Dairy Queen. My father would take me and my mother in the car and drive out there for an ice cream cone. It was usually on a hot summer night after dinner, we’d get waved though the main gate and drive past this huge cannon on a railroad car they had on display there that I think was called Anzio Annie. Aberdeen Proving Grounds was a huge sprawling base but it wasn’t that far to the stand. Once past the cannon we’d hook a right turn and drive a couple of hundred yards before taking a left where the ice cream stand was on the right hand side of the road, one of those typical 1950’s designs, with a slanted front façade with two service windows, and a drive in window on the side. I’d get a cone with a huge swirl of chocolate soft ice cream that had all these miniscule grains of chocolate in it. It was the best soft chocolate ice cream I’ve ever tasted. It had a rich chocolate flavour with a slight tang to it. Only later in the 70’s and 80’s, when I tried soft chocolate yogurt ice cream did I find something somewhat similar to that original taste. Strange how that ice cream and that taste has always somehow been a part of what has defined the 1950’s for me. When we reflect back upon our youth and past times, we usually have the tendency to embellish the good and forget the bad times. But I treasure my memories as very clear; I have almost no recollections of anything really bad back then. The world of the 1950’s had its order and its rhythm. It wrapped around us all, molding our consciousness, adding colour and warmth to our life’s palette as we painted our canvases with experience and I feel so fortunate to have been a part of it all…
Written in Paris in May 2013
A photo from 1959, in Aberdeen, Maryland. I am holding one of my two almost grown Easter chicks. The ones the other kids had been given for Easter had all died. Mine lived and grew into two roosters that we finally had to give to a local farm because the neighbors didn’t appreciate their 5:30 AM serenades…
© 2014 nightpoet all rights reserved
THOUGH THE STAGE STAYS THE SAME,
IT IS THE SCENERY AND THE ACTORS THAT CHANGE
Good morning and welcome to Breakfast On The Blog. A few days ago I was reading an article in the New York Times by Ellery Washington, who is an associate professor of creative writing at the Pratt Institute. The article was called James Baldwin’s Paris and Mr. Washington was retracing Baldwin’s footsteps through Paris and speculating where a young Baldwin might be living if he were in Paris today. The well-written article provided both interesting information and insights but eventually reached the conclusion that Paris has changed so much since the time when Baldwin lived there, it is impossible to determine where a young gay penniless black writer would live today.
How very true that is. A few years ago I went to Paris to retrace Hemingway’s footsteps and his legacy there. In visiting the places where he lived, worked and frequented, I discovered that most of them no longer existed or have changed in such a fashion that they would barely be recognizable to Hemingway today. As I wandered around looking up addresses, taking notes and photographs, I became sadly aware of the fact that in the face of the almost 90 years time since Hemingway first moved to the city, Paris was wearing a new wardrobe. Many of the cafés, clubs and restaurants either were gone completely or, even if still operating under their old names with their interiors well preserved, had morphed into exclusive high priced gourmet restaurants. The places where Hemingway often sat writing and nursing a café crème for hours at a time have become five star poisson restaurants, where today the price a meal and a few drinks would have paid Hemingway’s rent for many months.
Just around the corner from the the Rue Notre-Dame des Champs, where Hemingway lived when he returned to Paris in January 1924 with Hadley and his new son and lived above an old sawmill in an inner courtyard that was torn down years ago, is the La Closerie des Lilas. During the time that he lived in this neighborhood this was his café of residence. He did some of his writing while sitting here and in 1924 worked on the first re-write of The Sun Also Rises. What was in Hemingway’s day a cheap, quiet café is today a busy expensive restaurant. Inside there is a plaque on the bar with Hemingway’s name on it along with a photo of how the café appeared in the past. The atmosphere is also somewhat preserved by the old wooden walls with their brass lamps, the low lighting and live piano music. Tables are marked with small brass plaques with the name of a well known patron who most likely sat there in contemplation or conversation over a glass of wine or a well nursed café crème. I went one evening with an Irish writer and poet and a long time resident of Paris, and we started the evening sitting on the terrace drinking a glass of champagne and then having a meal of lamb with spring vegetables in a piquant sauce, which much to my surprise was excellent, with a few glasses of fine Pinot Noir after which we moved inside and sitting at Samuel Beckett’s table downed another round of exquisite champagne at €15 (approximately $21) a glass to the background of the piano music and the lively conversation of the obviously regular patrons stretched along the bar. The tab for the evening for two people (dinner and drinks): €120 (approximately $170). Ah yes, how the times have changed since the days when it was a cheap café where Hemingway could muse over a drink for hours at a time for just a few centimes.
As I wandered about I found that this was true of many of the other places that the community of expatriate writers, poets, musicians and artists frequented in Montparnasse and other areas of Paris in the 1920’s and 1930’s, and later, after the war, when the generation that included Baldwin, Wright, Ginsberg, Corso and Burroughs and a number of American jazz musicians made their way to the City Of Light. Places like Brasserie Lipp, Café de Flore, Café Deux Magots, Le Select and Café du Dôme, where writers, artists, actors and philosophers that include Hemingway, Pound, Beckett, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Pablo Picasso, Alain Delon and Albert Camus held court, today are but hollow facades of what they once were, lacking of course the atmosphere and the spirit of times past. History has passed them on to new faceless generations to act out and write their own histories in. When you go to Paris to find the creative and artistic past, you will find that is more like looking for the Hunchback in the towers of Notre Dame; you will find it more in your imagination than on the streets themselves. Paris will inspire you, change you and bless you with her incredible spirit and beauty, always. But, when looking for the physical history, you will also discover that in Paris, though the stage stays the same, it is the scenery and the actors that change…
My piece entitled The Paradox Of Paris, accompanied by 100 captioned photos, having already been posted in 2010 on Facebook, will be posted here on the blog in the near future.
© 2014 nightpoet all rights reserved
When I was about ten years old we lived in a little village on the Bay of Biscay, in a small cottage right on the seawall of the North Beach. Every day the tide would roll in across the mud flats and then, after kissing the beach for a short interval, roll right back out again. If you looked out across the mud flats and the brown waterway on the horizon you could see La Rochelle gleaming in the sunlight. And between the North Beach and there, if you followed the shoreline you would eventually come to some cliffs that rose along the beach. They always held a certain fascination for me because they were made of sedimentary rock, set down in very visible layers, and not the ancient lava bed that had rolled across a sea floor millions of years ago and that made up a good portion of the underlying bedrock beneath the beach. It was a child’s paradise of sea and wind and beach and sky. And there were fossils everywhere. Just lying about for the taking. But it was more fun finding the ones that were hidden, the ones you had to work for. They were the special treasures. When one day I finally made the long trek along the shoreline to those cliffs I was disappointed, they didn’t hold as many fossils as the lava for whatever reason. The lava had rolled across a living sea floor and had taken with it all the things that were living on the sea bed, preserving them for curious kids like me to discover in an unfathomable future. Nature knows well how to please children.
As I was saying, we lived in a small beach cottage with the name Nicole painted on the front wall, above the porch, under the roof. I always wondered who she might have been. The builder’s wife, his daughter, his lover? Perhaps the house just named itself. I loved it there. I was isolated, alone, the beach and the bay and the village were mine and mine alone to explore and enjoy. I was the proverbial “stranger in a strange land.” I knew little French, just enough to get by, to make my wishes known. Almost every day my parents would send me to the Boulangerie and I’d bring home a still warm baguette, nibbling the end off as I walked back. How I loved that bread. It was real bread. Coming out of the end of the 1950’s America it was a real change. Real bread, not Mary Jane Wonder Bread.
In the summer the village was a tourist destination for the French from the eastern half of France who came in droves to sun themselves on the beaches. There were actually three of them, the Main, the South and where we lived, the North. In September everything was closed up and shuttered for the winter and the village went back to sleep. Life went on in its slow conservative French way until June when the summer cycle reawakened. For any other American kid, living in Fouras would have been a nightmare. For me it was a never ending adventure, a world of my own.
When I was eleven I received a small transistor radio that looked sort of like a lunch box, only it was about half the size of one. I used to walk along the North Beach with it held up to my ear listening to whatever I could receive, which were four or five French stations and occasionally something from further away. That was my first experience with portable music that has so come to dominate all our lives these days. That radio was my i-Pod in 1961. These days it sits on one of my bookshelves, retired, but still in workable condition.
What are not sitting on my bookshelves are any of the fossils I laboriously and lovingly collected over the time we lived in Nicole. I had a few boxes full of fine specimens, including a very large piece of petrified wood that I had actually found among the rocks and lava on the beach. That was one of my prize pieces. When we later moved further inland outside of La Rochelle, my Mother left the boxes behind without asking or telling me. When I incredulously asked later what had happened to them, after discovering that they weren’t among the possessions of mine that had been moved, she offered some sort of feeble excuse about not wanting to drag along the extra weight of a few boxes of “rocks.” My Mother was an angel, she was the best Mother a child could have had, but I never forgave her for leaving my fossils behind. That was an incredible violation of a sacred trust. I just hope whoever ended up with them appreciated them. They probably just got dumped back onto the beach. When I returned to the village for a visit in 1981, twenty years later I wanted to go down into the basement and see if the boxes might still be there, but there wasn’t anyone living in the cottage. Nevertheless I collected so many fossils on that trip that I hurt my shoulder lifting my backpack full of them on to the overhead luggage rack on the train. I was trying to compensate I guess. They are on my shelves. Forty five years later, in 2006 on a second visit I still wanted to sneak down in the back yard and search, but didn’t. I did collect some more fossils though. That place will be giving up its fossil treasures forever…
Fouras, the North Beach in 1961, and 45 years later in 2006.
The cottage Nicole in Fouras in 1961 and 1981.
The cottage Nicole in Fouras in 2006.
In front of Nicole 1961 and 2006.
On the beach in Fouras, by the lava formations 1961.
On the beach in Fouras, by the lava formations 2006.
© 2014 nightpoet all rights reserved
I decided to walk back from my acupuncture appointment this afternoon, through the Kurpark from the Sonnenbergstrasse. I trudged through the dead brown wet leaves lying limply along the path, past the statue of the sitting flute player, but She was no longer sitting on his lap as She once had in what now seemed like ages ago, when I was just a bit younger and happier. On the edge of the small lake the boats were stacked, one atop the other like fallen dominoes, like fish on ice for the winter. The benches were sheltered under the concert half-shell, stacked on the stage, looking white and lonesome. I walked past the Kurhaus, all alight for some official political function, the buffet lay waiting for the fat cats to finish their weighty discussions, the champagne glasses neatly stacked, longing to be filled and clinked. I slipped through a bored group of policemen, sipping coffee out of paper cups as they stood around their vehicles in the crisp damp air. I crossed the street and walked through the park in front of the State Theater, musicians and actors slowly arriving on foot or by bicycle for their evening excursion into thespian titillation. .
I slipped across the Wilhelmstrasse and through the small shopping passage, with nice boots on a table in front of a shoe store for 150 Euros and came out behind the Marktkirche, it’s red brick walls rising in the waning light, frowning down as most church walls do. I walked through the large open place where the twice weekly market is held on Wednesdays and Saturdays, but it was filled today with a huge red circus tent for the International European Youth Circus. The orchestra was rehearsing inside. I slipped up the Mauergasse, past the pet store, the natural foods supermarket, a cheese shop, two bakeries, the used record store and my favourite little Italian restaurant, closed for another hour, the tables outside cold and empty, inside dark and opaque. And She wasn’t sitting there, with a glass of wine, laughing, waiting for Giovanna’s spicy lasagna to make its grand entrance. I went from there to pick up a book I had reserved at the small second hand bookshop around the corner and leaving turned up a narrow alley that led to the pedestrian zone. I passed a mother and father and an eleven year old girl with strawberry red hair and a face that will launch ships and break hearts someday. And once more Her image floated past my face, the thoughts turning to when we might have walked along those cobbles, hand in hand, blind yet to the constraints of an impossible dream, a future lived then for a few short moments in a present without a past.
And it’s just another brisk stroll past the shops and stores, filled with things that will never interest me, things I will never buy, until I arrive at the bookstore Café, where I usually sit on late afternoons that all to quickly merge into the dusky evenings, when I should be at home, making dinner and lamenting about never having enough time to write and read and listen and watch and play and paint and knowing that there won’t be the dog to greet me when I open the door anymore, and She won’t be laughing in the living room, sipping a glass of white wine, never wanting to leave. So I sit sadly down with Mapplethorpe and the coffee and the laptop and begin to type…
Wiesbaden , Germany October 30th 2012
…past the statue of the sitting flute player, but She was no longer sitting on his lap as she once had in what now seemed like ages ago…
…on the edge of the small lake the boats were stacked, one atop the other like fallen dominoes, like fish on ice for the winter…
…the benches were sheltered under the concert half-shell, stacked on the stage, looking white and lonesome…
…the champagne glasses neatly stacked, longing to be filled and clinked…
…I crossed the street and walked through the park in front of the State Theater…
…and came out behind the Marktkirche, it’s red brick walls rising in the waning light, frowning down as most church walls do…
…I walked through the large open place where the twice weekly market is held on Wednesdays and Saturdays, but it was filled today with a huge red circus tent for the International European Youth Circus. The orchestra was rehearsing inside…
…I slipped up the Mauergasse, past the pet store, the natural foods supermarket, a cheese shop…
…and my favourite little Italian restaurant, closed for another hour, the tables outside cold and empty, inside dark and opaque…
…so I sit sadly down with Mapplethorpe and the coffee and the laptop and begin to type…
© 2014 nightpoet all rights reserved
A LADY AND HER 1900 YEAR OLD LEGACY
Here is what I hope is an interesting story. When I first started working for the State Bureau of Archaeology in Mainz in September of 1986 as an excavation helper, I was sent out to work at the Roman Cemetery excavation in Weisenau. I didn’t have a lot of experience at that point, perhaps a year’s worth of work spread out over five years. I had been on the site for about four days. It was a Friday afternoon and the excavation technician and his crew wanted to take a lunch break, so they stuck me in a corner of the Bustum (a pit where the funeral pyre was erected and the corpse was then burnt and sometimes subsequently buried) that they had exposed and were cleaning. “Go scrape the surface clean in that corner,” the excavation technician said,” You can’t do any damage there.” And off they all went to lunch.
I had been working in the corner scraping carefully with my trowel for about fifteen minutes when all of a sudden a round hole the size of a saucer opened up as I scraped and, plop, the loam and some pieces of pottery fell into the hole. “Oh shit,” I thought, “Now what?” I looked carefully into the hole and saw pieces of a lid mixed with the loam and under that, burnt bone material. A cremation urn was buried in the ground and I had scraped off the lid. Great. I stopped working immediately and waited about thirty minutes for them to return. When they finally did there was excitement, and disappointment. There was excitement because of the nature of the discovery, though it was not unexpected, and disappointment because, due to the danger of “grave robbers,” hobby archaeologists who steal objects from the sites after we would leave for the night, it meant that we couldn’t leave the site alone, unguarded. And that on a Friday afternoon with the weekend in sight. It meant that the excavation would have to continue on Saturday and Sunday and someone would have to stay overnight until the find was completely excavated, documented and then removed. Everyone was sort of looking at me and shaking their heads. But then, it wasn’t really my fault. It was rather embarrassing though. We worked on the site through the weekend, I naturally volunteering for an overnight but they had enough people already to cover the three nights.
And what exactly had I found? Well, let me first refresh your memories about Roman cemeteries in general and about this one in particular. The Romans didn’t believe in a “heaven” or “hell” as we do, or in much of an afterlife. Their concept of eternity or immortality was in what one left behind to remind people of their status and achievements. Therefore they thought the best way to do that was by erecting, sometimes large and elaborate, grave monuments on the side of the roads. Thus their descendants and travelers would see these monuments with their inscriptions and be able to read who they were, where they came from and what they accomplished in their lives. Of course, it was the more well to do that had the largest and the fanciest of the monuments, but merchants, shipbuilders, architects, artisans, public officials and soldiers all had gravestones or monuments erected. This is naturally a treasure trove of information for the archaeologists when these inscribed stones are found because they give us information about where the people came from, what kind of work they did, what military unit they might have served with, who their family members were and who they commissioned in their wills to erect the monuments. Sometimes there are even reliefs picturing the occupant(s) of the graves. The information that this provides archaeologists helps us get a more detailed picture of life in the Roman provinces in the first few hundred years after they conquered the Germanic lands. The cemetery in Weisenau was located alongside a road (think of the Via Appia in Rome with its funeral monuments along the side of way) that led into and out of the outskirts of Mogontiacum (Mainz) and ran past a small military fort and settlement located on the city’s edge. Other cemeteries were located along the main roads into the city centre. This cemetery was in use from the 1st century AD until the 4th century AD.
The surface of this road was made out of hard packed crushed stone and was bordered on one side by a drainage ditch. There was a “passing lane” on the other side of the hard surface that had only a packed dirt surface. In this we found the remains of wagon wheel ruts still preserved. On one side of the road were the (as we referred to them, “grave gardens”), small and large walled enclosures surrounding the monuments and gravestones. These were the graves of important people, those who had the money and the resources to have such a monument erected in their memory. On the other side of the road the lower classes were interred, for the most part without any elaborate markers. Their urns were just placed in holes in the ground, with perhaps a marker of wood. On both sides of the road, behind the area where people were buried or the monuments stood, there was an area where the pyre pits were dug out and the bodies cremated in a funeral ceremony during which offerings of grave goods and food would be placed on the pyre and a funeral meal would be eaten by the deceased’s family and friends.
So back to what I had discovered. The particular walled enclosure had been completely dug out, probably after the walls had been built, and a massive platform of crossed wooden beams was erected, the funeral pyre. You can see the charcoaled outline of some of the wooden beams, preserved in the orange-yellow fire hardened loam in the photo. Upon this constriction, most likely a couch would have been set and upon that couch, the corpse would have been laid. In this case we know that the deceased was a woman because of the kinds of grave goods that were interred with her urn. Her body would have been cremated along with offerings of food, spices, oils and perfumes. This served not only to appease the gods, but also to help cover the odour of burning flesh. Once the rituals and the ceremony had been completed, and the corpse had been consumed by the flames and the cremation pit had cooled down, the ashes were swept together and the burned bones were sorted out and placed into an urn, which was then closed with a lid. In this instance they had a wooden chest standing on four iron legs in which they placed her urn, and then put in ceramic jugs of wine and water, glass vials of oil and perfume and plates and bowls containing food. Notice in the photo how everything is contained within an oblong form and how iron nails are still sticking up in the loam, the wood having long rotted away.
Once they had place all the items in the wooden chest, they took their spades and dug a small hole just deep enough to hold the box in one end of the Bustum, breaking through the fire hardened loam. They removed the wooden chest’s four legs and placed it in the hole, laying three of the iron legs on top, and the fourth they left lying outside of the hole (when the wood later rotted and the top of the chest fell onto the contents, the three legs ended up on top of the grave goods). Then they back filled the hole. There was undoubtedly a large monument or gravestone built into the walls of the enclosure, telling the entire world that went past, who she was and what she had accomplished in life. Unfortunately those stones, the inscriptions and that information have not survived. There are some other clues to tell us a bit about her though. Many of the grave enclosures were family “plots” where later descendants would be interred as their time came. Some of the enclosures belonged to “burial societies” established for units of soldiers, or a guild of workers like potters or carpenters. As long as the enclosures were maintained they were respected, meaning strangers did not intrude on the graves with later burials. Where families died out or for whatever reason an area was no longer maintained, people would no longer respect the grave site and, so to speak, trespass with their later burials.
Whoever this lady was, she must have been wealthy, important and well known. And I say that because there were only two intrusion burials within her enclosure, both dated much later than her interment. Which means her gravesite was respected, or maintained for well over a hundred years, if not longer. Her name must have carried some weight. One thing we do know is that, when her “Leichenbrand” (literally “burned corpse, or bones”) was carefully excavated from the urn, traces of gold threads were found mixed in with the cremated bones, meaning that perhaps a cloth in which some of the small grave goods had been wrapped had gold threads woven into it. There was a large glass container for perhaps oil, and a beautiful glass ribbed bowl that might have held fruit. There were also three Terra Sigillata (the fine red Ancient Roman pottery with a glossy surface) plates and a small bowl, along with other pottery containers that would have held food. There were some fig seeds found too. Anthropologists studying the burnt bones were able to determine that she had been between 30 and 50 years old when she died. The grave goods helped date the burial to between 60 and 70 AD. There was even a coin in the urn (to pay the ferryman for the boat ride across the river Styx). The coin was an As with Agrippa’s portrait on it (Herod Agrippa, 10 BC–AD 44 grandson of Herod the Great, friend of Claudius).
Probably since the beginning of the human race, in an effort to understand the incomprehensible transition that death is, and in an attempt to leave some sort of permanent legacy, some sort of memorable monument to our having lived, humans have buried their dead and sought to immortalize their accomplishments through their grave monuments and gravestones. This unknown lady who lived over 1900 years ago accomplished just that, both in her own time and for her distant future, out present world, through the finds I helped bring to light on that day back in 1986. And thus began my archaeological endeavours in the city the Romans called Mogontiacum…
Wiesbaden, Germany November 30th 2013
© 2014 nightpoet all rights reserved
A JAMES JOYCEAN PARIS MOMENT
Yes, out on the streets with the swarming masses. Thousands of people and yet, I am still isolated and alone. It’s springtime; the young couples are sitting everywhere stealing kisses, walking hand in hand along the cobbled streets. Older couples, tourists, are strolling arm in arm or sitting together eating in the many bistros and restaurants. Nature pairs things off in the spring, especially in Paris. I decide to walk down to the heart of this bustling metropolis, down the hill to the Seine and Notre Dame. I walk up the Rue Mouffetard past the Place Contrescarpe to where it crosses Rue Thouin and becomes Rue Descartes. I cross the Rue Clovis with a quick glance to the left towards the Pantheon. Descending the Rue Descates I pass behind the church called the Saint Étienne du Mont, walking down the steep incline of the Rue de la Montagne Sainte-Genevieve and then cross the Rue des Écoles. At the bottom of the incline is the Boulevard Saint-Germain. From there it is but a short stroll into the tourist infested Quartier Latin, which I avoid, instead going straight ahead to the Quai de Montebello on the Seine and the vista of Notre Dame across the water on the island. There seems never to be a time when the whole area around the cathedral isn’t humming with human activity. In fact there is never a tourist season in Paris; the season lasts all year long.
I walk across the Pont de l’Archevêché and along the gardens on the left side of Notre Dame. Japanese tourists are snapping digital photos of each other against the background of the blooming spring trees, Americans are singing the cathedral’s praises in loud obnoxious squeaky voices, trying to hush screaming toddlers in equally squeaky strollers, and a dozen different languages float on the air, fading in and out in an interesting collage that one might have heard on the tower of Babel after God’s wrath turned communication into a carnival of confusion. When I reach the square in front of the cathedral, on the bridge to my left, the Pont au Double, there’s a busker plying his trade, his efforts muffled by the roar of hundreds of people passing by, and there are some kids performing tricky maneuvers on skateboards, all hoping to part the tourists from a few coins. In front of the imposing cathedral façade there’s a bloke dressed as the hunchback Quasimodo, posing for pictures with an endless stream gullible tourists, which reminded me of the young men dressed as Roman soldiers that ply the same trade in front of the Coliseum in Rome. It’s a three-ring circus. And although each time when I first arrive in Paris, I make this pilgrimage down the hill and to this insane and yet beautiful part of Paris, it is not the Paris that I come to see. That Paris lies elsewhere. But this is where I always begin. I pay my respects to the heart and soul of the City of Light. And then I walk back over the bridge to the Left Bank and I make the second stop on my pilgrimage of arrival, a quick stop at George Whitman’s English bookstore, Shakespeare and Company. It’s another place I have never seen not hopping with hundreds of tourists and seekers of literature. Situated at 37 Rue de la Bûcherie, in the 5th Arrondissement, it was opened in 1951 by George Whitman, and was originally named “Le Mistral” but he then renamed it “Shakespeare and Company” in 1964 as a tribute to Sylvia Beach’s original Shakespeare and Company bookstore, which she opened on the 17th of November 1919 at 8 Rue Dupuytren, before moving to larger premises at 12 Rue de l’Odeon in 1922.
Although I enjoy perusing the bookshop, it is usually overflowing, and owing to the fact that it is small, sometimes one has to wait on line to get in. The book store is divided into two parts, a crowded two story half with mostly new English language books, and a second smaller storefront on the left side that is the antiquarian part, which is more often locked shut than open. In that half of the shop there is usually less going on. Through the years though I’ve bought a number of enjoyable books there and was once even invited to one of their afternoon tea gatherings. The most significant thing that ever happened to me there was one afternoon when, in the antiquarian part of the shop, I found a signed copy of a special edition of James Joyce’s Anna Livia Plurabella, a section of his much larger Finnegan’s Wake that even they were unaware of the fact that it was just stuck between other books on one of the shelves. That occurred on a Saturday, as I was making just the kind of pilgrimage I was describing above. I had one of the ladies put it aside for me on hold but as I thought about it that evening, I decided to go down on Sunday afternoon and complete the purchase.
As I walked up to the shop I noticed a little lady with graying hair sitting on one of the benches in front of the shop. She looked very frail, but then one should never judge a book by its cover, especially when one is at Shakespeare and Company. I had to get one of the ladies to open up the antiquarian half of the store to get the book and that took a bit of negotiating, all of which the grey haired lady on the bench took an active interest in. at least that is what I was noticing. And besides, there was something interesting about her. So, with credit card in hand, and following the saleswoman who ceremoniously carried the book over to the register, I marched from one half of the shop to the other, past the grey haired lady and paid for my treasured purchase. It was an interesting moment, holding something in my hands that one of the Twentieth Century’s greatest writers once held in his. As I prepared to make my exit I decided I’d have a sit on the bench next to the petite frail lady and have a gander at my newly acquired book, figuring that she was curious and probably was going to ask me about it, which, of course, she did. And thus my first encounter with a peppery little Irish woman who was a longtime resident of Paris took place. I thought it an interesting coincidence that both she and Joyce were Irish.
Could Joyce have imagined, all those years ago when he signed volume No. 746, one of those eight hundred copies of Anna Livia Plurabelle he had to autograph in 1928, that through this copy of his book he would be responsible for starting a conversation some eighty years later. I could just imagine him, surrounded by piles of these little books in their boxes, hunched over with his nose almost touching the book, squinting through his wire rimmed glasses, cursing and complaining that there were so many of them as he signed one after the other in his tiny flowing script. I doubt that he could have ever fathomed such a moment in the future, his concern was surely only in getting a check for all his effort. When he wasn’t busy writing, money, drink and food were always first and foremost on his mind, and not necessarily in that order.
We talked for a while after looking over Joyce’s specially printed edition and she then excused herself saying she had a bus to catch. When I offered to walk her, gentleman that I am, to her bus stop she firmly refused, bade me goodbye and left me standing at the curb. It was then that I first realized that the health issue she had briefly mentioned in our conversation was the reason for refusing my escort. But she had offered no further clarification, and I didn’t ask. Stubbornly independent, she walked very slowly towards the Square Rene Viviani and her to bus stop on the Rue Lagrange.
Ah, but today is a beautiful mid-spring day and I’m standing on the Rue de la Bucherie, staring across at Notre Dame, with the book tucked safely away in my backpack, wondering which direction I should now wander. I’m standing just off the center of the Quartier Latin, a place that never stops hustling and bustling. The level of street noise alone is incredible. The sun is shining and I decide to walk for a short while along the Quai Saint-Michel past the Pont Saint-Michel and then along the Quai des GrandsAugustins. It is early afternoon and the traffic, all headed in one direction, west-northwest, is fairly heavy. The Seine glistens in the sunlight, its surface creased by the sightseeing boats and the occasional river freighter. I’ve never been on one of those tourist boats, and although I wouldn’t mind floating along the Seine at some point in time, it certainly won’t be on one of those. A block past the Pont Saint-Michel I slip across the busy Quai des Grands Augustins and turn up the Rue Git-le-Cour. I stop for a moment on the corner and close my eyes. But then, that’s another story for another time…
© 2014 nightpoet all rights reserved
“Growing older? Hogwash!”
“Growing older? Hogwash!” remarked Hatter, “No, no, you don’t grow older, you grow vegetables or roses. It’s just the very complicatedly simple matter that time never ‘passes,’ but exists everywhere at once and since time moves in all directions at once, it never really passes in any one direction, so you never really grow older or younger, thinner or wider, up or down or in or out. You see, time doesn’t pass, it plops. Just moves right on in and plops on down. And there it sits, all fat and satisfied, not moving in all directions at once. And what do people try to do? Measure it! Really? Take its temperature. Ridiculous! Absolutely ridiculous! Absurd! And celebrate a birthday? Hah! It makes much more sense to celebrate an unbirthday. There are so many more of them!” Hatter had worked himself into a terrible tizzy. Once again Alice didn’t quite know what to think. He looked so funny, all puffed up with himself and with his hat dangling precariously at an angle. But then, after some thought, Alice decided that Hatter probably was right. It made much more sense to celebrate an unbirthday and that growing vegetables or roses certainly was better than growing older, which you could not pick, nor eat, nor put in a vase…
wiesbaden, germany november 13th 2011
© 2014 nightpoet all rights reserved
“Poor Alice, she’s all wet…”
Hatter, raising his teacup into the air, paused in mid-thought. “Oh dear sweet Alice, she must have gotten into my mushrooms again,” he exclaimed, turning to the Dormouse, who was alternately nodding and shaking his head in agreeable disagreement. “Yes, that must be it,” Hatter continued, “She’s much too kind and beautiful to be confused all upon her own. That’s it, it must be the mushrooms!” Ah, but Hatter was forgetting to remember that Alice knew the Hookah Smoking Caterpillar and that it just might be that she shared a puff or two with him that was the cause of her joyful muddledness. Or perhaps, this being Wonderland, it was something else completely.
Meanwhile, Alice was hiding in the rosebushes, lying there in the most obvious wettest bliss, thinking, “I need to keep an eye on that Hatter or he’ll be off and starting the party again without me.” So she stood up and hoisting up her skirts and petticoats ran back to the Tea Party as quickly as she could, quite forgetting to put her moist panties back on. As she came upon the Tea Party she slowed down, parted the bushes discreetly and observed Hatter. He was holding up his latest oil painting, which the Dormouse was ignoring, seeing as he was sound asleep under the table. “Yes, yes,” mused Hatter, “Yes, this will do nicely. I’m certain Alice will be much pleased. My latest work of art should quell her confusion and stir her inner creative juices to new wonders.” Alice stared through the bushes at what Hatter was holding. “Oh yes, Hatter,” she thought, “How right you are!” She felt the waves rising again as she stepped from the hedge. They surged. “My goodness Hatter,” she laughed, “What have you done? Just look at me! I’m all wet and it’s not even raining!” He looked at her and knew it was so. And the Cheshire cat, fading back into view just smiled silently…
wiesbaden, germany september 20th 2011
© 2014 nightpoet all rights reserved
“Poor Old Hatter, He’ll Never Learn…”
“Enough of this fooltommery,” exclaimed the Hatter, standing up suddenly, knocking over the table and sending saucers and cups, teas and pots flying everywhere. Alice jumped back, shocked. “I’m late, oh dear so very late!” he cried looking at his pocket watch for which there was no pocket. With a wave his hand, his hand turned into a paw and he into the Rabbit and he scampered quickly away, running through the freshly painted red rose bushes. And we all know how rabbits are. Alice blinked in amazement. Sitting on a toadstool nearby, the Caterpillar took a large draw on his hookah, puffed out his cheeks and exhaled a long slow cloud of smoke. He yawned. “See, I told you so,” he drawled slowly in Alice’s general direction. “He’s tired of tea and now he’s off to find carrots.” Alice thought for a long moment. The caterpillar yawned again. Then this wicked little smile spread slowly across her face. Her eyes sharpened and she pondered, “All I need is a carrot, a little bit of string and a very long stick!” Alice smiled, feeling very satisfied with herself for a second time that day as she danced off, petticoats rustling, through the freshly painted red rose bushes with mayhem on her mind…
Hatter had slipped away to find and then alleviate an overwhelming Obsession. Alice was insisting that the honey sweet nectar of the flowers in her garden would be so much better than just plain old tea. She was right you know, and Hatter certainly wasn’t offended as he gently stroked the head of the Obsession, now purring contentedly in his lap, alleviated. The only problem was that, having partaken of too much of Alice’s golden nectar, he ended up sprawled, streaked with red paint, amongst the rose bushes, sound asleep. Alice smirked quietly to herself as the Cheshire cat reappeared, smiling. “Poor old Hatter,” she thought, as she wiped up the spilt nectar, ” He’ll never learn…”
Yes, Wonderland is a very strange place, Hatter was dreaming, where passion flowers oozed with sticky emotion and that forbidden fertile valley was moist with the soft warm morning dew…
Hatter had been sitting at the table waiting patiently almost all the day long for Alice to return. She had scampered off much earlier in a flurry moaning something about returning later with a duckumentation. Now he’d heard the Jack of Hearts often talking about an ejackulation, he knew that when he was waxing eloquently that he was giving a resuscitation and he’d even seen the Red Queen screaming her head off several times about a decapitation, but he hadn’t a clue as to what Alice was going to bring back, though he was most curious. It sounded like some sort of fancy waterfowl. “And,” he mused to no one in particular, though the cups and saucers and spoons were all listening intently, “That is so very typical of Alice, to wander off and leave me in the dark. Humph!” Rabbit had bounced away earlier mumbling between his whiskers about rushmoons and garimolds and the Dormouse, having had a wee bit too much of the cooking sherry, was leaning with his head down, his face pressed firmly into the table, fast asleep, snoring in little sawtoothed squeaks. A fine tea party this is, thought Hatter, Rabbit is gone, Dormouse is plastered and Alice will probably return empty handed and tell me that it’s not duckumentation season and she could find none to be had. Poor Hatter, how he hungered so in secret, and now Alice was going to break his heart again. Poor old Hatter, he’ll never learn…
And he never did…
wiesbaden, germany august 28th 2011
© 2014 nightpoet all rights reserved
I once had a very interesting encounter with Prince Charles in Monmouth, Wales in 1975 when I was hitchhiking with a girlfriend around the United Kingdom. What follows is a piece I wrote in 1976, first about visiting Dylan Thomas’ village of Laugharne and then about meeting the Prince in Monmouth. Some of you have probably seen this before, please excuse my indulgence. The photo, which was damaged by the pocket camera malfunctioning as you will read, is of “Charlie” as he was winding up our “chat.”
As I seem to recall, it was raining lightly. It always seemed to be raining. The narrow road wound ’round a curve or two and down a hill past a few leaning houses. Bright flowers poked wet faces over the walls of the yards. To the left lay a small church and a graveyard. The road thereafter became the main street of a little village, the buildings all lined up along the curb. The air hung heavy with the rain and a certain feeling that this quiet village harboured something special, something unusual. When, as we were coming down the hill, the drizzle gradually became steadier, we took shelter beneath the wide wooden archway of the churchyard gate. Yes, it was a sleepy Welsh Wednesday morning, cool grey and cloudy, a Dylan Thomas day dawning in Laugharne.
From Alan Davies’ Manchester House bookshop, just down from the bus garage and not too far from the main square, where we later had sausage, chips, toast and tea for lunch, it was roughly a quarter of a mile trek to the Dylan Thomas Boathouse. After slipping down several side streets, past another graveyard, we followed a path that ran along the slope that bordered the estuary. It was peaceful and serene, despite the downpour. The whole scene had the touch, the feel and the depth of one of Thomas’ images. It begged for words like a small barking dog begs for attention. Woof, woof! Perhaps it was the rain that set the mood. After all, we were retracing the steps of a master. Steps he had probably taken every day for years, steps that held a strong fascination and gentle appreciation for life in that certain corner of space and time. They were steps that led through warm Welsh days, rich in the imagination his insight stimulated. I doubt that he ever tired of those steps, despite the rain.
“And over the bridge and under the deep green wood and along the dusty road we wove, slow cows and ducks flying…”(1) Well the road wasn’t dusty, but we had stumbled into Laugharne in our wanderings. We were having that kind of luck. As we walked through the town I kept waiting to catch a glimpse of one of Dylan’s characters. Perhaps Enoch Davies or Noah Bowen. Maybe Jenkins Loughor and Mr. Jervis, or even Mr. Weazly and Will Sentry. Or Thomas’ uncle and his aunt, whom he never thought of as “anything but the wife of my uncle, partly because he was so big and trumpeting and red-hairy and used to fill every inch of the hot little house like an old buffalo squeezed into an airing cupboard, and partly because she was so small and silk and quick and made no noise at all as she whisked about on padded paws, dusting the china dogs, feeding the buffalo, setting the mouse traps that never caught her…”(2) We didn’t see anyone, probably because of the rain, yet I suppose they were really there behind the curtains, warm and dry, all the time.
The china dog. As we trudged through the rain towards the Boathouse I couldn’t keep that funny episode out of my thoughts. The downpour couldn’t dampen the absurdity of their routine. “She was so small she could hit him only if she stood on a chair, and every Saturday night at half past ten he would lift her up, under his arm onto a chair in the kitchen so that she could hit him with whatever was handy, which was always a china dog…”(3)
Why that particular passage held my thoughts I’ll never fathom, but it was making me smile as we descended the steps from the Boathouse to his residence, skirting the puddles. It was a small unimposing building, perched on the edge of the estuary with a pleasant view over the water. Inside, in the midst of all the precious memories, one could feel his spirit, his energy still pervading the rooms. Strange, such feelings, memorable, such moments. We signed the visitors’ book, leafing back through the pages, observing what other wandering souls had written in the previous months. We found an entry penned by his children, on a visit earlier in the year, that read: “it’s still the same old house, it’s good to be home…”
Deborah and I left Laugharne later that afternoon, regretting that we didn’t have more time to spend in the quiet recesses of the village. The rain had, for the most part, subsided and we still had many miles to cover. There would be other days, other mornings, as rich as the creamy English milk, so soothing to the throat. I’d conquer the pints with style, not to mention the other kind of pint that also soothed, stout. We left the sleepy village with a real piece of Wales in our pockets, along with a wooden “love spoon…”
It had been my dream since first a student of English Literature to travel to the Celtic Island strongholds. At the foot of the Virginia Blue Ridge Mountains the early flames had been kindled through my studies. Later, having moved across the Piedmont to the coast, the dream began to take form, until, through Deborah’s stubborn persuasion it was finally given birth in the summer of 1975. We managed to wander around southern England, weave our way up through Wales, slip across to Ireland and finally roll through Scotland as far as the Outer Hebrides in sixty-three long/short days.
It seems that no adventure is without its fluke event, and this one was to be no exception. And as I was saying, we were having that kind of luck. Yes, there would be other mornings. On this particular one the sun was trying very hard to wedge between the clouds. The wind was having better luck parting the leafy branches of the trees. We had spent the previous night in a Forestry Commission campground, filled fairly to the gills with holiday makers, their idea of a vacation being not unlike that of most Americans – pack the kids in the car and get out of the city. Indeed the thick forests and rolling hills on the border of Wales and England offered a splendid opportunity for a pleasant holiday. The small wooded mountains more than once recalled those noble Blue Ridge Mountains we had left behind.
Like all too many other mornings we had managed at best, a rather late start. It had rained on and off throughout the night and in a successful effort to keep a small five by eight foot tent relatively dry we had lost some sleep. The day before had been a long slow progression from the streets of Oxford to the Forestry Commission campground, located about five miles outside the town of Monmouth, just over the Welsh border. We had covered about seventy-eight miles hitch-hiking, the latter three-quarters of which we had endured in the open back of a kind family’s Landrover. Though a bit windy at times, it was a most beautiful ride through the rolling countryside just before the border.
On this particular morning, having finally packed up the tent and our backpacks, we walked down the road away from the campsite to where an elderly couple stood waiting to catch a local bus into Monmouth. The pleasant old lady lost no time in informing us that today there were big goings-on in the small town. It seemed that, as she put it, “Charlie would be a walkin’ through the streets, wishin’ ‘is subjects well. You shouldn’t miss ‘im.”
Charlie? Now I’m no fan of British Royalty particularly, but this was an unexpected turn of events. Deborah was visibly excited. And the town? Well, after a short bus ride we arrived in the town centre to see Union Jacks hanging all about, red, white and blue flowers in the shop windows and displays, and people milling about expectantly everywhere. We soon learned that Charlie, as everyone referred to him, would be headed down a certain street within the hour. Naturally, not having had any breakfast, what with the late start and all, I was thinking of my stomach. So it was off to lunch in the pub in the Swan Hotel. After a quick sausage, chips, cheese and ale and a few friendly words of advice from the pub’s owner as to exactly where Charlie would be waltzing by, we hoisted our “gear” onto our backs again. With a last swig of ale it was out the door to see the Prince.
Perhaps I should explain about the “gear.” Each of us was toting a big bulky green backpack. Stuffed to the gills with all the things you think you need and you collect along the way when travelling. Mine weighed about forty-five pounds, hers around thirty-five. Sometimes we must have looked very much like two turtles, you know, our homes upon our backs or whatever. Anyway, remember that, because I was starting to get this funny feeling.
We followed the clusters of people to the street that old Charlie was scheduled to walk down on his way to tea in the King’s Head Inn. There were multitudes of school children in uniforms and lots of elderly people lining the curb. A bit further down the street it was somewhat more crowded than where we now stood. There were numerous Bobbies pacing nervously about. Then, as some of the town’s officials, each with a large medallion of some sort around his neck, began to filter past, the crowd grew expectant. So there we stood backpacks on and all, dear Deborah fumbling with her Instamatic, waiting. Charlie, being as handsome as he was and all that, was certainly worth a picture.
Suddenly around the bend, sure enough as handsome and dashing as a frog turned into a prince, surrounded by officials hung heavy with medallions and ribbons, by wary bobbies, alert security agents and stumbling photographers, there came the bonnie Charlie. People were hanging out their windows and clapping as he briskly strode up the street in a dark suit, sporting a red carnation. That strange feeling was beginning to grow stranger as Deborah fussed about with her camera and Charlie strode ever nearer. It seems her camera was jammed and she was still struggling with it, frustration stealing over her face, as Charlie smiled up and down at his subjects and waved. Suddenly I realised that we must look like two watermelons standing there, me in my blue farmer john overalls and Deborah in her long pink…well it sort of looked like a nightgown. But it must have been the “gear.”
All of a sudden, between a smile, a step and a wave old Charlie caught sight of the “twa corbies,”(4) or watermelons if you wish. He broke stride, taking his escort by surprise, and walked towards us. I had seen it all developing, but I think Deborah was in shock.
“‘Ullo, ‘ullo,” said Charlie, “And where is it you’ve come from?”
“Virginia! Georgia!” we sputtered in rapid succession.
“Oh, how nice. And how far have you both come?” he continued.
“We’ve been through southern England and are now heading into Wales,” I somehow managed to blurt.
“I see. Where will you go from here?” Cameras were clicking and I noticed for the first time that quite a crowd had gathered.
“On through Wales and then into Scotland,” I heard Deborah reply, thinking it was good that she didn’t mention our intention of visiting Ireland in between. She was still fiddling with her camera.
“I see that you have the proper walking stick,” he observed, noticing Deborah’s cane. The crowd had swelled around us. “By the way, tell me, are the two of you married?” he asked with a perfectly straight face.
For a few long seconds all was silent in Monmouth. The townspeople, the photographers, the reporters, the Bobbies, the officials, the security agents, everyone was obviously hanging on each word and he had strung us up on the highest limb.
She looked at me, I looked at her, we both looked at Charlie. He just stood there smiling. “No we’re not,” we managed to whimper at last. Swoosh! The noose tightened. Guilty! Those poor souls further back in the crowd strained to hear the final blow. I could have formed the words with my lips as he spoke them.
“Well then, I should hope that by the end of your trip you might be!” The crowd roared. Deborah did somehow managed to take a picture before he slipped off. I must have been rather red in the face. A curious crowd now thronged around us with statements along the lines of “Aren’t you the lucky ones,” and “My, my, what did he say?” Questions were pouring in from all directions as we stumbled on down the street. In the Kings Head Inn I’m certain Charlie was chuckling over tea and crumpets.
Later in the day, as we were hitch-hiking out of town, our thumbs stuck out, his motorcade passed us right on by. He didn’t even wave much less pick us up. Yes, there would be other days…
(1). Dylan Thomas, The Outing (London: J. M. Dent and Sons Ltd. 1971), p.15.
(2). Ibid. p. 2.
(3). Ibid. p. 3.
(4). Old English meaning two crows.
© 2014 nightpoet all rights reserved
SENSES WORKING OVERTIME
I am walking down a narrow, cobbled side street, coming back from the boulangerie. The baguette I am carrying is fresh, crisp and still warm. I envision it with a pat of butter, a piece of poulet and some hard cheese. It is lunchtime here in Paris, and from the open windows of the apartments there come voices, glasses clinking, the sounds of food being served and consumed. From one window there comes the melody of someone playing a harpsichord. Paris is a feast of the senses…you see it, hear it, touch it, taste it, smell it; you immerse yourself in the experience of it all…
A plain, typically French looking young lady sitting on the bus, a red low cut blouse, thin neck, slender figure, small breasted, soft skinned, short cut brown hair with a slight curl and a small moist mouth, absorbed in reading Maupassant’s Belle Ami…only in Paris…
On the way to the Museum of Modern Art on the bus, a motorbike accident happens a few seconds before we reach the accident scene. A young lady runs into the back of an automobile. The bus driver slows to a stop. People are helping carry her off the motorbike, and suddenly a little white Scottie dog also jumps from the motorbike into the street. The bus driver calls out the window,”The dog, the dog!” Someone runs after the little fellow and brings him over to the sidewalk. The people were as concerned about the dog as they were about the woman. Only in Paris. As we pull away the woman is sitting on the sidewalk, in shock, but with the dog in her lap…
I meet a friend for a quick glass of wine in a Café and then, because she is tired, walk her the few blocks home. I then am walking down the Blvd. Port Royal alone thinking about eating somewhere when from behind suddenly someone jerks on my hair. As I turn around to see what is happening, expecting God only knows what, a rather inebriated young lady is standing there explaining to me in French that she wants to be happy again, wants to live again, wants to love again, this all the while being translated by a young man accompanying her, when I explain that I don’t speak very much French. Exactly what this has to do with my hair I don’t know, but I assure her that she will be happy again and point out that she is already laughing. She thanks me profusely and they walk on ahead of me. I continue down the Boulevard wondering why I am always a magnet for such events…even in Paris…
© 2014 nightpoet all rights reserved
Preface: A note on the Poetry that will be found here from time to time…
Time, so fleet of foot leaves everything behind so quickly. Moments become memories in a matter of seconds. The past, if not documented, blurs in the sheer magnitude of life’s experiences. My poetical aim has always been to craft some of these fleeting moments into monuments, sculpting with words images to withstand the erosion of memory, working with sound and imagery to create a solid something from the intangible passage of consciousness through time. These works are intended to be read aloud thus emphasising the emotion and the metaphor, utilising the fullness of tone and the depth of expression that only a voice can give. Some of them were even meant to be sung. It is my sincere hope that at least some of the works presented here will meet with your approval, dear reader…
BEGINNINGS: ALL THOSE MANY DREAMS AGO
In the early part of 1969 I had already been at college a few months and broken up with my first girlfriend when an amazing young lady crossed my path and, as it subsequently turned out, would help lay out the blueprint for all that was to follow. For this narrative her true identity shall remain anonymous, but for the sake of giving her a name, let’s call her Lilly.
Lynchburg, Virginia was itself an amazing place to be in the late 1960’s. In the middle of this centuries old bastion of stubborn Bible belt conservatism there was a small shining nebulae of radical awareness and open-minded liberal activism. Within the Lynchburg College campus and the surrounding countryside were a surprising number of unique, liberal and very individualistic people. This was true of both a small minority of the students, and some very outstanding faculty members. One of these faculty members was Mr. Charles Barrett, the professor who taught the creative writing class. Dr. Barrett directed the Freshman English program at the College from 1960-1979 and taught a variety of writing courses. He was an old school professor, but very open minded and extremely intelligent. I always thought of him as being straight out of the mold of say, a Hemingway-ish kind of literary figure, with combed back grey hair, salt and peppered moustache, with a strongly sculptured face. He was an exacting, hard master in his courses. And those qualities are what made learning under him so worthwhile. There was a story about him back then that before the United States entered into World War II he was one of the American aviators who were secretly recruited into the British Royal Air Forces as pilots. American citizens were prohibited from serving in the British forces under the various US Neutrality Acts; if an American citizen had defied strict neutrality laws, there was a risk of losing their citizenship and imprisonment. I seem to recall him telling me about how he had volunteered for 50 missions, completed them successfully and then volunteered for 50 more. He was shot down on the 49th one but managed to bail out of his burning plane. One thing was for sure, he did have burn scars around his ears where his hair had been singed away.
Ah, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Lilly was one of those unique individuals who came from the countryside, having grown up in southwestern rural Virginia. She was extremely intelligent, well read, an excellent writer, creative and slender and, at least in my opinion, very beautiful. Not exactly the normal product of the conservative close-minded environment that existed there at the time, and for that fact still does. Lilly was special. I don’t recall exactly how or where or when it was that we first met, but what I do recall is that she seemed magical. She was filled with what seemed to be an ancient knowledge, a kind of wisdom that was far beyond that which her 20 years would have led one to believe was possible. She had the kind of personality that lit up any room she entered, pixie Peter Pan-ish like, with a smile that was contagious. And although she had her moments and her moods, she seldom let them surface for air.
Lilly had been at the college for a while before I got there and she had good connections to Mr. Barrett’s creative writing class. I was fortunate in so far that, as we became involved with each other, I naturally showed her some of my early attempts at poetry. She thought enough of them to show a few to Dr. Barrett, who reacted favourably and agreed to accept me into his creative writing class at the beginning of my sophomore year. I probably could have gotten into his class on my own merits, but it was through her efforts and support that the way was made so much easier. Lilly became my muse and inspiration. Those were indeed magical times. We’d borrow rooms in our friends’ off campus houses to have our trysts, since the dorm rooms were off limits for any kind of mixed fraternizing. Even after these many decades I can recall her distinct smell and taste. Lilly oozed creativity and inspiration. And she filled me with it.
Spring came and the first year of college ended. I went back home to Virginia Beach for the summer to irritate my parents by hanging out on the boardwalk all summer long and not working. Lilly returned to her home too and we kept in touch by mail. In August I hitchhiked up to Woodstock a week before the festival started with a guy and his sister that I met on the boardwalk and ended up working there for the duration of the festival and for a week afterward. Naturally I didn’t behave myself there and ended up bringing back home with me some uninvited little guests that I was blissfully unaware of until some three weeks later when, back on campus and back together with Lilly, I promptly shared them with her. Ouch. That quickly became the end of both them, and, sadly, the end of my relationship with Lilly. Nothing like being young and stupid. I always have said in the past and it is true that I really regret very little of the experiences in my past, but I do regret that I let Lilly slip away so easily. I was more embarrassed than sensible and it must have seemed easier to turn my back on the whole muddle I had made of things at the time. Sigh. As one can imagine, I probably threw away a whole lifetime of creativity and inspiration. But when you’re twenty, irresponsible and carefree you don’t have the advantage of 45 years of hindsight. Lilly eventually disappeared beyond the horizon, probably got married and pursued her dreams and I continued on my haphazard odyssey through my life. But I never forgot what she did for and to me. A few years ago on one of my visits to the States I did eventually find out where she was and wrote a simple note per e-mail expressing my thanks and gratitude for all that she had given me back then. And left it at that. Of course she didn’t reply. Some boxes of memories are better left closed. But thanks to Lilly, I got a running start on what I consider, among my many and varied undertakings in life, my true occupation, that of being a poet.
And I have been telling this story as a way of leading up to the presentation, as I start this blog, of one of those early poetical works inspired by Lilly, one which she found worthy enough to present to Professor Barrett as an example of my writing back in early 1969. Thanks Lilly, once again, for everything…
be happy it’s…or ratherfamily
talbot thawlet thought he had a family
until he couldn’t find it.
then everyone supposed he had trouble.
ah, not so, thought crafty talbot,
because i don’t have a family to find,
i will make one…!
thus he did,
taking first several jars of empty mustard
and combining them with a pound of
chopped palm trees,
he shaped and formed molds and sidewalks
as rather cheerful footsteps poured in.
then, at the very bottom end of the mold, far down,
he inscribed his entrails.
it could have been his officials.
and because of the rather cheerful foottaps
he called his family ratherfamily.
one word, ratherfamily…
the task completed, he put his boots on
and went gaily to his god in dupont circle.
when on i return, he said to ratherfamily,
you’d better be! and ratherfamily shook
their heads dusting them off, yes!
at his got in duponce de leon circum
he worked very hard making rivets for frog voices.
frogs always appreciate a good ribet now and then
and talbot would always stamp them out
nice and big and shiny.
one time, the city of heartford remembers
he stamped one side ways instead of upside out
and one of the grofs in heartache ate a television tower.
stamped u. s. postage can be vitally dangerous
in the throats of temperamental rofgs…
meanwhile, ratherfoamy, who kept a few frogs
themselves, still was.
only they called the rivets whipples,
because their frogs often had sore throats.
therefore, that being the case,
they couldn’t whistle, but they could whipple.
be that as it may, but only when they could let it,
ratherfaculty waited for talbot to retire home…
talbot, with his lavender knee socks,
left duplex cricket to go.
i hoop that ratherfabian is still, he said
removing the sign that read no smoking,
the sign, already in the fifth grade, could read well.
pocketing a few ripples as he stood on the freight car,
he got off and walked up to the house.
up was one of the few frogs themselves
that always waited for him.
when talbot opened the door,
having been mortally wounded
by the forty-three archers dressed in saran wrap,
waiting by the steps,
he looked inside,
and after mowing the lawn
and burning the leaves and stems,
he discovered ratherfamily
not there still…
*lynchburg, virginia, spring 1969*
Carnegie Hall, Lynchburg College, where Prof. Barrett’s creative writing class was held.
© 2014 nightpoet all rights reserved
It’s a new year and a new adventure. This is where you will find me in the future. I hope that I can make this blog as creative and entertaining as I have tried to make my posts on the social media sites that I have frequented in the past. I have been informed that there will be advertisements from time to time on this page. Well, like that song so eloquently said, “We gotta move these refrigerators, we gotta move these colour TVs.” With that said, it’s time to jump in head first…