Whetstone

His name was Blackstone. He was our professor of poetry, of creative writing.

We called him Whetstone, because he sharpened our wits.

We had classes with him twice a week. Normally, he would come into the room sit on the corner of his desk and recite a poem usually not one of his own, someone that he’d been reading. Perhaps Auden or TS Elliot. Or something by Conrad Aiken or whoever was in vogue with him at the moment.

I remember especially one that began

Well, Sherry died last night…

We all believe it was true for the first few lines, but the rhythm and rhyme set us straight pretty quick.

On this particular morning he came in as usual and sat on the corner of his desk and began what we thought was a recitation.

“My house burned last night,”

he said. We had all been to his house the weekend before for a celebration. The house completely lighted by candles placed on the mantelpiece, on the drinks table, on end tables by the chairs and davenport. Maybe a hundred candles and a dozen students.

We wanted to know What is the occasion – your birthday? He told us that he was celebrating the fact that his wife had run off with the plumber. Then he proceeded to tell us that a plumber had more money than he could ever have as a poet and a college professor and “… in fact had a golden door knob on his house, I hope how you appreciate the Freudian significance of that?” He lifted his glass and said “Here’s to solitude and to the Muse.”

So this day when he sat on the corner of his desk, it was not a poem. We began to notice he was not so neat as normal. His suit was a little wrinkled, his hair disheveled and and there was a smudge on his cheek which seemed to be soot. What gave it all away was that he was not wearing socks, unforgivable for such a dapper guy.

After that first line, he passed out and sprawled across his desk. I ran next door to the room of Dr. Rogers with whom later in the day I would be taking a class in Robert Browning’s the yellow book or whatever it was called, that long poem he wrote in Florence based on the trial. Dr. Rogers was another poet not so distinguished perhaps, but older and with a reputation of sorts based on his thesis on Browning at Antioch. He was am elegant southern gentleman in a blue suit matching his eyes. He was also head of the English department.

With our assistance he got Dr. Blackstone out into the fresh air of the balcony over the garden below our classrooms. Somebody called the university medics and they took him on a stretcher down the steps.  He was later treated for depression, and maybe a drying out?

The upshot was that in fact he had fallen asleep in his own living room with candles once again all over the room, drinking alone, mourning the loss of his wife. One of the curtains caught on fire. He woke up inhaling smoke as he was led outside by neighbors and, in a stupor, watched his home burn to the ground.

As far as I know he did in fact later write a poem that begins

My house burned last night…

but if so I never saw it.

I used to have a copy of his early book Call Back the Swallows, by Wings Press, a vanity publishing house. Other books I found listed on the internet – Delirium and Drums, Miracle of Flesh – but never handled either of them. There was yet another I never saw which I could imagine contains something about the incident, since it is dates only a few years later than the day he fainted in the classroom.

It is called Not as leaves are shaken.

April 10, 2016
Valldemossa

Letter to Sissy

Here’s part of a letter from Stephanie to Sissy (Stephanie’s Aunt Lillian) dated 42 years ago today, describing the love that she and Patrick share.

Click on the image to enlarge it so you can read it more easily. 

 

Letter to Sissy, 20 July 1976

Whiffletockers

In high school I worked after classes and on Saturdays delivering furniture for Carl’s Furniture store in Orlando.  Miss Brewster was the secretary and bookkeeper for  my boss. She was what we used to call a handsome woman, probably in her fifties.  She wore reading spectacles with rhinestones on the rims, and was one of the first persons I knew who had a chain to let her glasses dangle from her neck when she wasn’t using them.  I was fascinated by the way they bounced off her bosom when she let them go.

There were two of us working in the delivery van. When we had no deliveries, Miss Brewster put us to work sweeping the premises, washing the display windows, polishing the tables and whatever she could dream up to keep us earning our wage.

She was hard to please and kept after us, never satisfied, especially with the floor and those  dust balls which would flee from the air current created by the push broom, scuttle under a sofa, and later reappear to follow Miss Brewster as she swept by to greet a customer in the showroom.

She called these elusive fluffs whiffletockers, pointing them out to us with her spectacles.  Whiffletockers were hard to catch, and if you managed to grab one with a broom, it stuck there and had to be plucked loose from the bristles by hand.

I never heard the word before or since.  Miss Brewster has since become dust herself, and for me all that remains of her is that pair of spectacles, slanted like cat’s eyes and beaded with rhinestones, and her contralto voice saying whiffletockers.

Memory is often like that.

You try to catch it and it scurries away from you, hiding under other more vivid furniture in the head.  In that sense then, they resemble Miss Brewster’s whiffletockers, and I am determined to track as many of them as I can, weightless though they may be, and flatten them like oversized asterisks on the page.  Maybe then they will cease flitting about on the floor of my mind, or at the very least accumulate in an orderly fashion in a corner where old light is coming through a window.

*

  ‘Nita and I are standing on shining wood.  Barefoot.  Naked. Bright sun illuminates our skin, makes a puddle of light beneath us.  We seem to be floating on the thickness of varnish.

In another room dark and windowless, my newly arrived brother has my place.  He arrived without the harmonica promised to come with him.

That is the beginning of all.

*

Writing Stories – the 8 Point Arc (by Watts)

Notes that Patrick had made about a writing technique, from a file dated 30 Aug 2014, referencing the book Writing a Novel by Watts. Some of Patrick’s examples come from his own unfinished book, Dr. Weightnovel.


Artwork by Phil, for the unfinished book

The eight points which Watts lists are, in order:

  • Stasis
  • Trigger
  • The quest
  • Surprise
  • Critical choice
  • Climax
  • Reversal
  • Resolution

He explains that every classic plot passes through these stages and that he doesn’t tend to use them to plan a story, but instead uses the points during the writing process. Continue reading “Writing Stories – the 8 Point Arc (by Watts)”

Meeting Patrick

One of the most memorable events that happened while living at your house was when your father visited. It was enormously satisfying to me on so many different levels and I don’t even know why, actually.

He’s a great conversationalist, he’s very personable, and he has a great sense of humor. He’s outside of the box.  It was really awesome spending time with him and getting to know him.

Seeing where … getting a sense of part of who you are, it was very interesting, very interesting. I hope I get to see him again.

Recording of Christine while driving cross-country, 20 Nov 2014.

Driver

Almost everyone Chris knew in college had a part-time job, although the girls less often than the men.  Although he had a music scholarship which paid tuition and dorm fees, he still had to eat – and the scholarship required that he play in the marching band and do various odd jobs for half-time football shows.  In addition to that, he Continue reading “Driver”

Gilipollo

Gilipollo on the Back Steps

The name of the rooster is Gilipollo (pronounced hilly poyo). It’s a play on words, really. Gilipollas is a derogatory term in Spanish, meaning in the most polite translation, pompous ass. Pollo, of course, means a male chicken. So Gilipollo is a pompous chicken, you might say, as roosters are wont to be.

He has grown to be quite a big fellow, and when he runs ahead of me down the path behind the house, he makes a thumping noise. He has a way of growling which I have never heard in a chicken, and he seems to have a sort of speech impediment; it’s never cock-a-doodle-do, nor even the Spanish equivalent, ki-ki-ri-ki-ki. He makes the most mournful sound, often in the middle of the night from his roost in the orange tree – maybe having been disturbed by some animal in the night – and more normally at dawn, as well as many odd times during the day, especially if one of the other roosters in the valley decides to crow about something. Continue reading “Gilipollo”