A Brief Memoir Of Two Poets Who Came To Our School To Read, And Took Off Their Shoes

I should like to describe to somewhat parallel events---one that happened in autumn of my Junior undergraduate year; and one that happened in spring of my Senior year.  As both Poets are still living, I will not mention their names.

   The first Poet showed up on our campus a couple of hours earlier than expected. As I was hanging out in the English lounge, and no one else seemed to be around, I was drafted to give her a tour, and advised to make it last about two hours.  She was only a few years older than me; with long, brunette hair; clad in a kind of cropped top, a denim mini-skirt, black tights, and heels.  Our campus was a kind of bucolic preserve, with a flowing fountain fed by a branch of the local creek, at the edge of a small mid-western town that was known for its manufacturing.  The soul of the campus, where a small bridge cross the creek's branch and where the fountain flowed out of a concrete and brick structure that had been built around it, was called the Hollow.  Graduation took place there; for those of us who had studied bucolic poetry, it was also a Hallow, or Holy Place.

   As I had given campus tours to prospective students during my Freshman year, I was well aware that a complete walk around might take nearly an hour, if we followed the parameter.  From time to time, especially when there was lawn area adjacent to our path, the Poet took off her shoes.  Now she may or may not have known that, on our campus at least, at that time, walking around with a shoeless woman was a status symbol of sorts.  In the setting of a dorm room, it was an indicator of a willingness to engage in intimacy.  My first college girl friend was very nearly date raped when the upperclassman she was studying with invited her to take her shoes off.  During my sophmore year, my dorm room was right next to the floor supervisor's room, and he was notorious for bringing random females into his room; and, predictably, like clock work, my roommate and I could not help overhearing, through the very thin wall, his invitation to his guests to remove their shoes.  A certain young man, whom I called "Little M---" insinutated himself into the life of the most beautiful Freshman of 1976-77, on whom I had had a crush; and he would walk her through the domitory, always shoeless.  She always wore metallic blue socks with her jeans; near the end of our Freshman year, he date-raped her, which so traumatized her that she did not return to the campus but transferred to another school far from our geographical area.

     On campus, I was a nerd, a geek, a dweeb.  You can imagine the shock of passersby on those paths, seeing me with a stunningly beautiful woman who was, for the most part, carrying her heels and walking, whenever possible, on her stockinged feet.  When we reached the end of our circular tour, she suddenly asked if we might visit my dorm room.  I told her that I lived in an all male dorm, and that I could not guarantee how they might behave toward her.  She said that would not bother her; and, very conspicuously, did not put her shoes back on as we walked to my dorm.  Once in my room, I offered her the choice of seats---a desk chair, a kind of lounge chair like you find in cheap motel rooms, and the bed.  She tossed her shoes in the corner, and flopped down on my bed.  She immediately noticed the dry acquarium in which I kept my hermit crab, whose name was Fresca (not for the soft drink, but for a character in some of T. S. Eliot's poems; my crab Fresca came into my life in December, 1977, and died the day after I graduated---having evacuated her shell sometime in the darkness of that night, June 7th-8th, 1980, as quietly as she had lived, subsisting on a diet of shred lettuce and water, with a little bit of hamburger from time to time).  My guest asked me, "Is a critter in there?" and when I answered affirmatively, she asked me could she---Fresca---be taken out and placed on the bed.  With the Poet.  Of course, Fresca and I were happy to comply with this request, and here was this beautiful Poet, gorgeous in those black tights, with her shoes in one corner.  I was "between girl friends" at the time, and, when I did (rarely) bring a female student to my room, Fresca's response---either to parade around in her acquarium, or to withdraw into her shell so that only her claws showed; and the interpretation is obvious---was to parade around on the bed as if attempting to amuse and entertain my guest.

    We spent the better part of that second hour in my room, talking, playing with Fresca (not with each other), and making a moment in time that has affected my life for the next forty-two years.  With some reluctance, we returned to the English department, where the professors who had arranged her visit basically instructed me to "get lost."  Her parting glance to me, with her shoes back on, seemed to indicate---and I hope I did not flatter myself in thinking this---that she was not as pleased with this prospect as were the professors who were hosting her.  The next day, at the reading, she mentioned me by name, and thanked me for the tour and the visit to my room---as several people turned to stare at me quizzically.  

     The second visit took place during the last term of my senior year.  I had been admitted to the Poetry course that was only offered once every three years, and admission to it was by departmental invitation, which I had been promised since my Freshman year.  Of our instructor---the least said, the better.  But, when the Poet who was our Special Guest (and our instructor seemed to roll her eyeballs in their sockets as she said this, as if it propelled into some kind of ecstatic excitement) arrived, we were all required to attend his reading which--- unusual for our college but typical for this particular Poet, who then exercized a somewhat eerie power over colleges---required the purchase of a ticket.  As I was then engaged to be married, I also had to buy a ticket for my fiancee; three dollars per may not seem like much now, but to college students of 1980, six dollars were the cost of two small pizzas from our on campus pizzeria.

    Once admitted to the Special auditorium where our Special Guest was due to read his Special poems, we waited for a good fifteen minutes before he entered; then he sat himself on a three legged stool; and took his shoes off.  His gold-toe socks seemed, at that moment, offensive; and his hush puppies were not that much more valuable.  Then he began to play an autoharp for another quarter of an hour before he began to read his. uh, Special Poems.  During the concert portion of the reading, I muttered loudly, "Did I waste six dollars on this when I could have bought two pizzas?"  This got a laugh from my fiancee and the people immediately near us, and was apparently reported to the class Instructor who, the next day, reprimanded me for being rude.  I was graduating in three weeks; I no longer cared.

    The next day, our Special Guest read more of his Special Poems to our class.  I had, during the previous visit of Howard Nemerov, asked a question of him---"Whose poetry is more lasting, yours or Wallace Stevens'?"  The question was essentially a trap:  Stevens' star was then on the rise, academically, and the question compelled an answer "His," which, when Nemerov said so, I told him I thought he was quite correct.  (The day after than exchange I was called into the instructor's office, severely reprimanded, and told I was not to ask that question when our Special Guest visited.)  Each of the students in our class was given the opportunity to ask one question of our Special Guest.  When my turn came (the two or three seniors in the class were accorded the privilege of being the final questioners), I smiled at the instructor and then asked our Special Guest the same question I asked Nemerov, and his answer was, of course, the same as Nemerov's.  And my response was, "I fully agree with you."

    The day after that I was issued a formal reprimand by the instructor on behalf of the English department.  I knew enough about the system to know that having completed my sophomore project successfully, and had successfully defended my Senior Thesis and passed my oral exam (spending most of the two hours speaking about the science fiction future history constructed by Cordwainer Smith); and I had not outstanding fees.  Her reprimand could not block my graduation.

     As I said above, Fresca evacuated her shell and died on sometime during the night of graduation day.  I like to think that, somehow, she knew she was to help me get through college; and having done that, there was no more reason to hang around.  Because I believe that Scriptures clearly teach that God conserves all His creation and will ultimately restore, rather than replace, it (otherwise, why sacrifice His Son when He could have just started over?):  therefore, I expect to meet Fresca in Heaven.


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