I wandered lonely as a cloud

by dschapman

In the pines of old Mississippi in a cottage in a village in a clearing of trees lives a woman whose ankle is bad and she is forced to stay in bed. She is almost a centenarian. She likes me for some reason and she likes to talk to me, and for some reason I like to talk to her. She was raised in a different sort of Southern world. She was raised to be seen and not heard but she escaped, with her young love of poetry, and she memorized the world. And now she just lays in her bed and she looks out the window, and she tells me every time about how she likes to do it, and she knows that I must like to do it, too, that I must know, and how I know, but I never have anything to say about it. I recite her Rimbaud and explain the sort of poetry I like, and then I admit to her that I am attracted to a sort of young-man-ism that she might not approve of, a Rimbaud-Dean-Cliftism that really took my breath away. She turned on to Rimbaud and we watched some old movies together. She of course liked Errol Flynn, and I spent a weekend tracking down Errol Flynn’s catalogue. I send her packets every few weeks containing everything that I’ve printed, little booklets about love and collections of poetry, souvenir cards and tourist novelties, invitations and cards. I feel embarrassed at my meager output and the lewdness of my subject matter so I begin searching for true great poetry again, something I can print and be proud of it to even a woman like her, a doll from the Old World, the twentieth century. She likes to watch me talk about philosophy although I am never any good at explaining it. She tells me I should be a teacher and I tell her I might one day have to, I may not have a choice. She asks me what existentialism is and I laugh and I fail to explain it. I tell her to read Kierkegaard and mention Abraham on the mount, but find that I am unable to actually explain it. What’s the point of Kierkegaard? I can’t remember. I tell her that I am in love with a philosopher named Ludwig Wittgenstein and much to my surprise she studies his work on logic. I tell her that his is a pure sort of poetry but not like the other poets, and that she might not like it. But she seems to understand. I explain the unity of math, language, and art and she is very encouraging of my ideas, though I fail to articulate them. I admit that I’m writing but I have nothing to show for it, I write ever day but it is all very personal and embarrassing. She asks to see it but I do not let her. I look through my old journals for something interesting to read but am dismayed to find that I have written nothing I would like to show her. It encourages me to write something new, something altogether worthwhile and effective, maybe even escapist – she says that she likes to escape these days, I tell her I read just to empathize – I could write an empathetic, escapist piece for the both of us. She said she likes Rudyard Kipling. I mentioned the Romantics and she named them all and then began reciting Coleridge. I said something about daffodils and she recited Wordsworth. When one evening my back began aching and I complained of it, she asked me why my back was hurting. I explained the accident I had been in and she almost cried. I laughed and told her not to worry, that I thought she already knew. I said I too was familiar with laying in bed in the day and escaping, to staring out the window or reading poetry. I tell her that when I’m on bed I am sometimes taking medication and it is hard to read, so then I watch movies, and that is why I love movies. I have the serviceman set up cable in her house and we watch TCM some nights, drinking coffee. One day she smokes and I’m surprised. She used to smoke, she says, fifty years ago. Fifty years ago, my father was five years old. My father is fifty-five. Three lives. Five lives. I wonder what it was like to smoke in the old world. I wonder what she thought of the past, in the past. Even the Roman Republic was the modern world. She is a Scot and she loves her people. She tells me that she suffers a duality of the English, in that she can never forgive them for what they did to her people, but they were responsible for the poets and poetry that move her to tears. I have never heard such an honest love for poetry and it refreshes me. I try to remember what poetry used to be, before it was this down-low and subversive thing, this jagged edge at night – like Montgomery Clift in Hollywood, old Hollywood, prince of the chambers of pan flutes and sacks full of apples…