It has taken me a while to bring you this tale in the life and poetry of the Good Poet Abender, who was, as we have seen, not a very good poet at all. This one required a bit of research – I had to get hold of an old newspaper or two and a biography that’s been out of print for 17 years and I did some work on Google Earth and satellite photos. I even made a brief phone call. It wasn’t comfortable but someone had to do it.
This is the story of the night that Abender met Gloria Haynes.
It happened this way. One afternoon when he was 19 years old and was pretty much not going to school at all any more, Abender was sitting on a tree-bench at his mother’s house, laboring over a poem about a bull which he hoped to send in to a poetry contest. He had noticed that bulls were considered to be a topic chock-full of pathos, and that the bull had to die in the poem. He felt that if only he could write a poem about a bull, he would have the contest in the bag. And since he had recently decided that he wanted to marry Olive Landers so he could live at her mother’s house, which he considered to be a better setting for his poetic muse than his own mother’s house, he needed some cash for a ring. Earning money in any fashion other than by writing poetry was unthinkable, of course.
The previous day, as Abender had scoped out the Landers property, the bull in the Landers’ field had stupidly charged a thorny bush and got the branches wound up in its horns, and Abender had been there to see it and gloat a bit. As I have mentioned, Abender, though long on irony, was short on sympathy.
Recognizing an opportunity however, Abender was trying to write a poem about this incident, intending to infuse it with a sentiment which he did not feel. But inspiration was lacking; all he had come up with was,
which had ‘shaken’ crossed out and ‘shudderin’ substituted. Then alternately,
Ruby tubal bush,
boorish brainless bull
which was crossed out, and then the crossing out was crossed out, and then a question mark placed next to it.
Abender rose, wended his way over three fields, and ended up sitting at the top of a roadside ditch next to the same field. The bull was not in sight. Olive, however, was.
“Yo-ho, Ollie!” he hollered. She trod his way, swinging her arms – a big boned, pleasant-faced girl of Dutch descent who, we are told, once good-naturedly played the male lead in the school play the year not a single boy had showed any interest in theater.
“Where’s your bull, Ollie?” Abender asked when she drew close enough.
She considered a moment. “Ya mean the cow with horns that was in this field yesterday?” she fished up from the depths.
Abender considered this in turn. “Yes,” he said after a while, ever cognizant of diction, grammar, and style. “She was pretty big,” he added.
“She’s in the barn for calving,” Ollie supplied.
“Come sit on my lap and be my inspiration, Ollie,” Abender offered generously.
The lass shook her fair head. “Crush you in a minute.”
“Perhaps,” the poet mused. “Sit by my side, then.”
She did so.
“How’s your poem comin’?”
He showed her, shoving the notebook into her hands.
“Looks all modern and crap,” she offered.
“Precisely,” he said with admiration. “Modern, and crap.”
“Why don’t you pretend you’re a cross between Shakespeare and Edgar Allen Poe. You know, all, “Nevermore quote the bee, or not the bee… Why don’t you write a poem about a bee?”
“So, write a poem as if I were a poet other than myself in order to win a contest?”
“Ollie, I find I am considering adulterating my art for mammon. Maybe I will write as if I were a cross between Shakespeare and myself.”
“Money. I want to buy a girl a ring.”
“You?” she said, eyeing him speculatively.
“Yes. I even wrote a romantic poem the other day.”
He flipped the pages in the notebook and showed her.
Oh give me a time wherein girls promenade
At ten cents for petrol they’re sure to get made
The boys in their jerseys and jingly jeans
go hell bent for hopeful, as quaint as it seems.
“Very quaint,” she said politely, handing it back to him.
He wrote on the notebook page in a different color ink, “GPA and OL,” which was succinct, if not rash with romantic details, and handed it back to her.
She looked at it for a moment, and then said, “Hm,” and handed it back.
“So I’ll get the ring, then,” he said.
The large stolid girl did not answer immediately. She drew her knees up and crossed her arms on them, resting her chin on her forearms and staring across the empty pasture in front of them. Perhaps the pasture became a stage, peopled by figures of her imagination representing herself and Abender and their family, over the course of their possible future lives together. The ground took on a red hue as clouds thinned and revealed a sunset in progress.
“All right,” she said with a sigh.
“Stay here while I write my poem,” he said.
She stretched out on the ground next to him and continued to gaze across the field while he dashed off, with a hurried penstroke and very little correction,
This was his pasture, in late summer.
The ground was scraped to dirt by his hooves
ploughed into the loam was his offal.
The posts were pocked white, sometimes assaulted
by his horns that could make the air whistle.
“That’s Shakespeare,” he muttered.
Sunset lowered on him alone;
his consort was stabled for calving.
Hot air rippled around him as from a center.
He was the majestic audience;
a Moses bush flamed from the sunset-painted dirt
six feet before him, rendering a command performance.
As if he could see its color
and resented its ancestral enmity to his kind,
the bull charged.
After this the handwriting changes. I cannot find out what happened after “the bull charged,” but a few days later in the journal, I found an entry that sheds some light on this period.
I found my poetry notebook. Ollie found it, rather, and brought it over to me and said hello to my mother. They stared at each other a while, and then they both sighed, and then they sat at the table for an hour drinking coffee and talking about all sorts of thing I never heard my mother talking about – children and flower arrangements and recipes. I walked Ollie to the gate when she left, and she said that when she found my notebook she mailed in the bull poem because the contest was almost over. I did not scold her but I know that I do not have a chance as the poem was unfinished. It is her fault, though – she distracted me before I could write the pathetic ending, as I had not considered her capable of distracting me. I thought I had chosen the perfect mate for a poet’s life – accommodating to moments both artistically, serenely, alonely ascetic and to moments more comfortably human, stroking the muse. But – she is all woman.
Six months later, in mid-winter, we have this.
I won. A dream. Must see Ollie. Going to New York for a Young Poet’s Dinner – meet some important people. I’ll get my cash, then buy that ring I promised her and we’ll sew it up. Donald Haffermaid and Richard M. M. Barnstone will be there. I have the potential to be better than both of them, of course, but – at the moment they are the reigning kings of the art!
A little later, this.
I just looked at my poetry notebook, to take a second look at the bull poem which won the contest. I must say, I had forgotten what an ending of pathos I managed to wring out of that Shakespeare trick. I thought I made the bull die, but this is better for the purpose of the contest. Good stuff!
Abender, I am certain, was no handwriting expert to say the least, and seems to have forgotten that he left the poem unfinished. Here is the ending to the bull poem.
Later on the farmer came to the pasture
and found the mighteous creature standing in the middle.
The branches of the Moses bush
were stranded in his horns.
The sun bled all over them and lit them up
like they were alive.
The farmer thought the bull was crowned with glory.
He stood there admiring it. He felt peace.
Then the righteous man had mercy on the life of his beast
because the bull was crying, tossing his head, and hitting it on the ground,
trying to get free of the thorns.
His hands had no gloves. But he removed the branches.
Then the brute was like a child let out of school.
It gamboled, and grinned, and rolled on the ground
like a dog out of its kennel.
Then it huffed and forgot the whole thing.
Abender crossed out the word ‘then’ in the last line.
Abender went to New York to attend the Young Poet’s dinner, and he suffered triumphs and indignation, and met Gloria Haynes. I find that I must defer the second part of this narrative to another day.