My dear Miss Monroe,
The train got stuck, stopped, could not start again, and we the passengers were called to evacuate it. But I made my way anyhow in another train through a lot of stops with names like Odenton, where abandoned toilets enjoy free range in the backyards, to the Library of Congress--just to meet you.
Just to hear Harriet speak.
It took me a while.
"I have no idear when you will arrive," announced the train conductor helpfully to us in his Southern twang. He looked like a pregnant male boar. But on the trip at least I also saw an eagle.
The eagle's head and neck were showy white as snowbound Maine clapboard. His bib and body: charcoal black. His back was turned toward me. The urgency of position and posture as he perched on an evergreen told me, this is a useful soloist.
So were you, I think.
Visiting the grave of your archive, though, was a little different. Mist seemed to sink the Capitol. Indoors, the Library of Congress architect (if there ever was one) appeared to conceive of the place, especially its below-ground "C" level, as a dim, sealed, top-secret bunker; as a mountain railroad tunnel, minus screeching, rusted traffic. True, the aggressive swoon of lofty florescence may bar roaches. (Or, entice them.) The smudgy, blameless off-white corridors, stretching endless, without a scrap of signage save for office room numbers, inscribed on tiny doomy door plaques, would seem to ban the writer from the premises. Except for one small problem: all the books and words by and for and with and to and from the writers are stored here, of all places.
Why not put up a picture in the halls? Then, another? Why not post some large-scale building maps to help us hapless wanderers, or even a few interactive smart-boards?
Yes, there are workers, said to work here, like ripe, toddling Kafkas. Still, the steadfast vacancy of their habitat--doesn't it erase them, or threaten to?
Just down the Mall from here in a museum recently the Roy Lichtenstein retrospective serenely went kapow. Indeed, the library could hire a squad of graffiti artists to swarm the hallway pallor. Will they ever?
Until then, we walk through places where we'd rather not. Getting lost at the library, as I do and will and did, at least means I believed I could.
My dear Miss Monroe,
As I learned later, the office of XYZ could not be sure, they assured me, that the digitized audiotape facsimile of the voice I sought (your own) could be located, that day or any other. The librarian was a nice guy. But he also discovered that his office had lost its computer network connection only seconds before I walked in, which meant there was no way as yet for me to ascertain on what day, if ever, I might be able to listen to Harriet speak.
I waited, and they waited, and for all of us you also waited, didn't you?
Two and a half hours further on, I found myself ready and seated, snugly fitted with headphones in the office of XYZ, not far from Sergei Rachmaninoff's improbably lavish, curlicued old marquetry desk--listening. Listening to you. You read a total of six poems in a genteel, gung-ho, rhythmic tone. I think you tried to sing, as much as one could. And, phew: you didn't make clever comments along the way, as so many poets do. You did not try to explain your writing to me, or to you. Unlike poets now, you foreswore telling stories in 1932 about where your poems came from. You only read them in that pliant, sympathetic, vigorous voice. (Back then, few professional poets ever read, in public, their writing aloud.)
Because of how you read aloud, for the first time I understood that in writing you were doing more than just consolidating (sigh) what had been a very enterprising--if sometimes despairing--career. At the age of seventy-two, four years before you died, you were still looking (as you always had been looking) for another way to live again through words.
That is what I heard.