Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Editing the Maximus Poems
Given to me by the curator of the Charles Olson Archive at Storrs, along with the full set of Olson, the journal of the archive about which I wrote at the beginning of the Olson section here at PBH.
Two days ago, I made mention of the fact that my copy of the Maximus Poems contains a tourist brochure for the city of Gloucester, which I acquired on my first trip to Cape Ann, in the summer of 1998.
A college friend, J., also member of the infamous writing group I wrote about some time ago, was getting married. I drove from Buffalo to Cape Ann with my then girlfriend, E., also a poet. We'd had a sort of secret affair going for the better part of eight months. At first it was a romantic secret kept from our friends and peers, but by that August it had become apparent, to me anyhow, that the secret was something else. I was starting to let the cat out of the bag, as they say, and she kept trying to push it back it, so to speak.
Like the rest of the guests, we'd booked a room at the Ralph Waldo Emerson Inn in Rockport, where the reception was to take place. The wedding ceremony was held in an austere white chapel. It was Catholic, but it felt much more like a Puritan Congregationalist structure. E. and I sat in the back among my friends. Now that I think of it, it was all the guys from the writing group -- though none of the women -- plus a few other college friends.
My main memory of the ceremony is of laughter. It started when the priest began blessing the holy water and sprinkling it on the couple being married. Something in his mannerisms, his tone of voice, his persona, was so lackadaisical, so world-weary, that it seemed seemed at odds with the supposed joyousness of the celebration. All of us picked up on it.
The I made eye contact with one of my friends. We started to giggle. Within a few minutes the whole back row was stifling laughter to the point of choking. Fake coughs rose up, one after the other. I had to place my head between my knees to keep from looking at my friends or laughing harder. I was certain we had been heard, but no one mentioned it.
E. did not like any of my friends. When we went swimming after the wedding, she tried to do laps through their volleyball game and became angry that they didn't part the waters for her to swim past. Throughout the evening she made sour faces at their jokes and acted impatient to leave. She did like one friend, P. It was P., you might recall, whose exit from the writers group had signaled its demise. He also did not like this group of guys assembled in a group. He felt they got too chummy and arrogant and started to poke fun at each other in ways that made him uneasy.
To get out of the hotel and away from the group, we drove off with P. and another woman we had met. There's a big traffic circle at the entrance to the cape that we drove to. We drove around it once, then twice, then three times, until it became a silly joke. I think we must have driven around it about twenty times before returning to the hotel.
I couldn't sleep that night, probably as a result of my unhappiness with E. I had also run out of cigarettes. I got dressed and drove alone into downtown Gloucester. As I neared the main wharf, I could see firetrucks and police cars converging near the water. I decided to investigate. As I approached, I could see that the whole wharf, included several boats, was one fire. Huge flames swallowed warehouses, docks, and boats, while firetrucks and fireboats did their best to contain them. It was terrible and mesmerizing at the same time.
(Note: I''l resist the temptation to say I saw the destiny of my relationship in this conflagration. After all, this isn't a novel).
I returned to the hotel and slept. Next day I dragged E. around Gloucester, showing her all the sites I could find from the Maximus Poems. I was particularly excited to find the church atop of which was perched Our Lady of Good Voyage, cradling a schooner in her arms. E. seemed bored most of the time. She even seemed bored by my interest in the subject.
(Okay, then I imagined the conflagration of the night before and pictured our love going up in flames. We broke up a few months later, quite bitterly.)