Our family library contains more than books. It contains cousins, uncles, and a wealth of secret, sacred knowledge which would be comical to some, useless to most, and inspiring, if not dangerous, to eager, impressionable young minds. For it was this knowledge, embodied in these living examples, that made me want to be a writer long before I knew the real meaning of the word. Dangerous? Oh, yes, when one considers the financial ramifications of living the writer’s life in a society that pats artists on the head and laughs at them behind their back. We have the last laugh, of course — when we either go into voluntary exile, or they lock us up. But there’s a third choice, and it’s the one that I like best: love them, and let the matter rest.
That is the title of a little book I’m reading,
Published in 1939 by my father’s Uncle Archie,
A tragedy in four acts written in formal language
When he was twenty-six. It was not revised,
“To know,” as he confided in a prefatory note,
“The effect of slight labor in its spontaneous form.”
Thou ministers of hell, away! depart!
And let me bear this misery alone.
So said the Hermit when he was shaken
From sleep by young Jasper walking in the forest,
Who found him in the grip of fearful dreams.
Jasper is the son of Gershom, a wealthy landowner.
He does not know the poor suffering Hermit
Is his father’s brother, the good Lucian,
But he is deeply stirred by the Hermit’s plight.
I will read the rest tonight.
Until then, I will give thanks for this great-uncle,
Who wrote and painted all his life
To express his outrage, anger, and delight,
Eloquent confessions without shame or guilt.
Thus was his example, defiant, proud, and free.
And when I showed him my first poetry,
Written by hand on sheets of lined paper when
I was fifteen, he told me I should type them,
To see the words in a different, better light.
He was right, but the poems have not survived,
Though I remember parts of them now,
As one remembers distant peaks obscured by clouds,
Or a homeless man walking in shadowed gloom
Through the street as if it were an abandoned room,
Alone and in despair, a ghost apart, Grief’s Exile.
Songs and Letters, June 9, 2005
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Categories: Songs and Letters