i.m. Charles Olson and Thomas Wolfe
so you’ve only a museum now
and not a college at all
although I understand the buildings still exist near the town
where religion has reclaimed the real estate that
John Rice took for the muses after he scandaled at Rollins
lecturing on the classics in his jock. What . . . ? she says—
but she’s in Asheville here at the Mountain Museum
with Annie Albers and Ruth Asawa and M.C. Richards
Women of the College up on walls
their paintings and prints and stills from documentary films
works and days from the place
where poets, if not painters, were so macho they hadn’t the time
to read, for example, Hilda Morley’s delicate poems.
Who . . . ? she says, young and pretty docent, and I think
of docile women among genital toughs out there
but also of dear Hilda when I met her, Yaddo in the 70s, when
still she was unpublished, getting really old, still telling
all those stories about Stefan Wolpe’s Parkinson’s—
little paper-wads of poems slipped under my door at night,
her Dickinsonian habit of abasement followed by abrupt display
of weirdly-offered & prodigious genius—
Wolpe her great lover and her husband and the reason why
she didn’t publish for so long.
I think the most erotic photograph I’ve ever seen
was of Hilda once in Ironwood where the young and lovely girl
bites into an apple smiling with her eyes at Wolpe
middle-aged and briefly eminent composer
while he grins longing back at her on the Lee Hall front porch
and the grand love between them
positively shimmers in the air, in the lake behind them,
in the green mountains above—
and Tom Wolfe only
of all this, the hills, the little town, the boarding house
managed by his mum: Just off the car line;
Large Lawns, Reasonable Rates, Newly Furnished Throughout.
Our Auto Rides You from the Station for Free
No Sick Folks Here. Did I know, she asks,
any of the really famous poets? Dorn, yes; Creeley, yes;
Robert Duncan, yes & for a while & in a way.
‘Twas as if I said I’d seen Shelley plain.
Days of Idaho Out.
Days of Gloucester Out. Asheville out beyond and
south I used to drive on family holidays
my father stuck it in reverse on mountain curves because
our Plymouth—1948—couldn’t manage the climb
except by backing up. Scott Fitzgerald didn’t meet Tom Wolfe
in 1936 because the six-foot-seven native was
in Germany for the Olympics in a U.S. diplomatic box just west
of Hitler on the day that Owens won his first gold.
He exploded in a raucous Rebel cheer that drew the Führer’s ire:
Who’s the big oaf with their ambassador?
And who’s the man in Asheville with the crazy wife
whose books were all the rage before the crash and all
the unemployed, for who cared in 1936 about those flappers
in East Egg or was it West those rich idlers on the Riviera?
I don’t know, she says, but . . .
nor did the two giants ever meet—had you
asked Wolfe to climb on Olson’s shoulders they’d have
been together something getting onto fourteen feet tall
and a useful human ladder for a second-story man breaking
into Biltmore place. But what’s the first story
and she says Did you teach out there yourself? Of course
Maximus & Eugene Gant never walked along the Blue Ridge Highway
but they might have done it just as my father
might have gotten round that turn and backed the car
to Cherokee where nothing much is going on
beyond the poverty, casino gambling, Indians playing Indians
for some snotty gringo’s snotty children now. But then
there was the first story. It’s about three bears.
Alas it’s true that some men forgot their obligations and
their clan’s rites and found themselves with long hair on their bodies
and without their thumbs
and on their hands and knees, the kinsmen still of Hanging Maw
and Double Head and even John Ridge
they assumed names like Jackson Johnson Jefferson
and knew they must be hunted as they hid
until they had to hunt themselves. What kind of creatures
walk together on the road from Asheville out
of caves and down from trees and into talking leaves
inscribed in signs for eighty-six sounds
borrowed by Sequoia from the Greek and Roman and Cyrillic?
What? she says. Days of Gloucester Out, I say.
Days of what? she says. Those, I say, were the days.
John Matthias is poetry editor of Notre Dame Review.