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

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.

*

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”

The Liberator

Yves sat fuming at a corner table in Las Palmeras.  His scowl did not invite you to so much as say hello.  He stared at the empty coffee cup, thinking so hard you could almost hear his thoughts.  If you had, and you understood French, you might not want to hear those thoughts.

Yves’ restaurant, with Monique at far right

Two days had passed since his wife had walked out with a painter and sculptor named Fuchs.  Almost everyone in the village knew it was happening before it happened, and everyone knew it had happened before Yves knew it.  That’s where his thoughts were at the moment.  Continue reading “The Liberator”

Ringed by Fire and Smoke

Huge flames flicker along the ridges to the north and west of my house. In truth they are probably 10 miles away, but they are bright enough and broad enough, and the winds fierce enough, that I ponder my evacuation plan should the need arise.

I look closely at the distant fires, then climb into the truck in search of dinner with a friend from Alabama who is visiting here on business.

When I return, I decide it’s time to prepare, just in case…. not expecting to flee, but fearing the loss of those remaining bits of Patrick that I hold.

It takes about three hours, three hours to distill into a small collection the things I hold dear. It’s telling, these things I gathered up, Continue reading “Ringed by Fire and Smoke”

The Taxi

In memory and praise of Patrick’s refined sense of humour, I am sharing one of his numerous stories, worthy of the fabulous wise fool, Mulla Nasruddin, as told by himself at Carl & Antoinette’s place in Deià, last year. (N. d’A.)

The Taxi

Thursday evening, I was invited to supper in Deià and I drank so much wine I couldn’t drive home to Valldemossa so I took a taxi.

Next morning I couldn’t work out what the taxi was doing in my garage!

Concert review (English)

Published in Ultima Hora, 14 Sep 2017

PATRICK

by Emili Gené Vila

(English translation by Nicole.)

Concert review from Ultima Hora newspaper

I remember him playing the double bass or an organ, conducting a chamber orchestra he himself had created, conducting a choir, or directing the Music Festival, a miracle that remains very much alive, eager to recall the enthusiasm with which Patrick turned Deià into a musical world reference. There were moving speeches to remember Patrick Meadows (Susanne Bradbury, an old friend of those heroic and wonderful times, was unable to finish her reading). There were his son, his friends, the owners of Son Marroig, the conductor Misha Rachelevsky — and Stephanie Shepard, present as always. It was an extraordinary concert, outside the original program of the Festival, that served to bid farewell to Patrick with the sadness of the loss (Schnauber’s piece and the elegy in the encore), but also with the elusive joy of music. The Kremlin Chamber Orchestra interpreted some of Patrick’s favourite pieces. In the first half we heard a transfigured Night that lifted the spirit of everyone present. Memorable, as was Tchaikovsky’s Serenade: two pieces that lead the orchestra to its full expression — a young orchestra that sounded as though it was composed only of masters. The concert was excellent in every way: precision, style, pure rhythm and vitality, as well as dynamic, subtle and conclusive in Piazzola’s Libertango — the conductor’s last present to us in the second encore. Vigour and enthusiasm: I can’t think of a better setting to pay tribute to that restless pioneer we all owe so much to.