What “maudit” means in French is “cursed.” Perhaps in anticipation of Halloween, this is becoming a series about the poetes maudit and Montana Gothic. I asked Tim, who identifies with the poetes maudit, if he would like to respond to yesterday’s post, but he doesn’t write definitions. He writes himself. This piece is Gothic in a lot warmer climate -- maybe Florida.
Until It’s Written
I’ve always known that I was cursed.
The people that I am closest to will tell you that it’s true. They would really like for me to make some kind of attempt to make sure the curse does not rub off on them.
Truman Streckfus Persons thought a voodoo spell had been put on me by the Haitian witch who lived upstairs on Petronia and Duval in Bahama Village. In those days, Key West was a fragile ground of tongues that came rising from the dead.
Truman Streckfus Persons was the only friend I had who never balked at my living in a treehouse. Everyone else just stared way up into the upper reaches of the banyan tree, and most people were inclined to say: you want me to what.
And in the dark, too.
No electric. I had a couple of candles. Streckfus and I would do it dead drunk.
People always said he was a sissy. What do people know.
The two of us would climb the tree and push open the trap door to the treehouse and we were home. Home was where I kept the Bombay gin.
From the top of the banyan tree (I had no glass in the windows and the rain came in) you could see the entire island. We even looked down on Lighthouse Court and the lighthouse. Streckfus liked to spy on people with my binoculars. He would laugh and wave. No one could see us in the treehouse.
“I’m spying on Hemingway,” Streckfus cackled.
We had just had a long and crazy dinner at the Pier House.
The Hemingway house was dark and Hemingway had been dead for a while. Streckfus dropped the binoculars to the floor and stepped back three feet. Having turned white as a flutter moth. “Oh, I see him all the time,” I said handing Streckfus his drink and a joint I just rolled for the two of us or the ten of us or how many we were that night.
“I know you are. I wonder what that makes Gore Vidal?”
I shot him my best evil eye look. Streckfus had been forbidden by the Monroe County Circuit Court (corner of Whitehead and Southard over by the Green Parrot bar) to ever say those two words: Gore. Vidal.
“Don’t tell on me.” I would never rat on Streckfus.
He looked very thirsty. I was very thirsty. Smoking dope with opium in it makes people thirsty. We could work up a powerful thirst in Key West. It was the heat.
I owned one pair of cut-off jeans. That was it.
The Pier House Bar did not care. The Monster Bar did not care. The coke dealers at the Casa Marina did not care.
“Have I seen your tits,” Streckfus wondered.
I had to find them. “Yes, I think you have.”
We fell down laughing.
“Okay, where is it.”
He did not mean the gin. He did not mean the weed. He meant my latest manuscript.
I kept it in an old steamer trunk in the treehouse so the lizards wouldn’t eat it.
Streckfus had been writing a book he was calling Answered Prayers. No one had seen the thing fully assembled. Most of us had seen bits and pieces, vignettes.
From the floor of the treehouse (I had no furniture) we could stare up at the tropical moon and talk to each other without looking away from that whisper of an almost lightly tinted summer-green apparition floating in a sea of black and tangled stars.
“OTHER VOICES, OTHER ROOMS" is my favorite book,” I lied.
Streckfus could become quite contemplative.
“Other voices, other rooms, I was trying to exorcise my own devils, the subterranean anxieties that dominated my feelings and imagination. And still do. But we have to get you published.”
“You don’t have to read my book,” I lied.
“Oooohhh, I think I do.”
A novel I called YEAR OF THE HYENA. I have called about a dozen novels I have written that. But the one Streckfus wanted to look at was the first.
“You are very kind,” I told him.
“Honey, I don’t have a kind bone in my body.”
This was true. We tastefully passed out, and the next afternoon when we regained consciousness, Streckfus took the manuscript with him back to his room at the Pier House.
Climbing down sober was far more difficult than going up in the dark.
Reading manuscripts has made many, many editors very thirsty especially in the heat.
A couple of nights later, Streckfus was treating me to dinner (I had absolutely no money and Streckfus was rich as fancy pants) outside on the patio of the Pigeon House on Whitehead (today: Kelly’s Caribbean Cafe).
“Have you seen my tits.”
“About this manuscript…”
“You scared the hell out of me.”
A novel featuring Key West, voodoo, witches, bodies, murders, spells, Santería, and life at Bahama Mama’s in Bahama Village — should — scare someone.
“Streckfus, it’s supposed to scare you.”
“No. No. No. No. No. From what I can tell in the short time I have been able to research this novel you have written, every single one of your characters is real as are the (he started counting on his fingers) voodoo spells, Haitian witches, Bahama Villagers, bodies, murders, spells and dead chicken heads.”
Streckfus was then temporarily struck dumb. This was rare. His lips moved but no sound came out.
“Oh, lawsuits those sons of bitches over at that courthouse…”
Streckfus Persons knew all about them sons of bitches over at that courthouse.
“Gore Vidal will sue you.”
“Gore Vidal is not in my book.”
“It won’t matter, Gore Vidal will sue you, anyway, and you know it.”
My eyes to the sky.
“The toothless witch, the one on Duval and Petronia, put a curse on you that will never come off. Never. You will never publish this novel because not only is it disturbing, it’s accursed.”
And I never did.
There it was. Winter. Paris. Why Paris. It’s the curse.
Streckfus was dead. Everyone was dead. I walked among the living like I could pull the dark behind me.
I did not know WHY I had not died like everyone else. I just hadn’t.
The curse is that I have to live this life.
I spent the night with a bunch of adolescent boys in a very small tent. It was very cold in Paris that winter. We all had our coats on and were pushed down into our sleeping bags.
You don’t believe it. You don’t believe any of it.
You do not believe anyone would live in a treehouse in a banyan tree. You do not believe that there would be a place that the rain came in. You do not believe that a voodoo witch ever lived at Petronia and Duval. You do not believe Truman Capote was, in fact, Streckfus Persons. You do not believe there is such a thing as exile. You do not believe in Paris.
Our tent town was a demonstration to protest homelessness in France. You do not believe there is group in Paris called Les Enfants de Don Quichotte.
But there is.
And it doesn’t really matter what you believe or don’t believe. I’m not writing for you. You are not my audience. You are not my theory. You are not my idea. You are not my culture (I do not really have one). You are not my religion. You are not my concern. In fact, YOU are not real to ME.
We just don’t share the same values. And I live my life accordingly.
Those boys in that tent at that demonstration to protest homelessness was Paris at its best.
All of us in that tent are cursed. We have been cursed with a spell that has allowed us to stretch our voices out in an unsealed steamer trunk of poetry unfurled further than a rowboat sleeps toward Christmas.
Some of those boys are dead now. I have had to let them go. It is accursed.
I have a stained glass dementia in my bedcothes like the essence of swimming in yourself. I am demented. Consciousness broods at moons gone lightly green. I am sustained by the eyes of serpents and the sounds of chandeliers. I have been cursed to man the barricades in Paris with the lunatics. To be against the state of being homeless must be mad, mad, mad.
Give me the mad ones. The ones from the stars of the milky way who have no hope like me.
Give me what the accursed poets have. I want discovery, farewells, sorrow, towers, churches, domes, secrets, lips, the Seine, darkness, scars, leaps of faith, the North Sea, quiet afternoons, long endless cheesy novels, sunlight, wine, music, dance, wind, islands, skateboards, blonds and blondes, erotic daydreams, family dogs, hot, hot coffee, beaches, wholly lifted with some other manic lover and his sword, the clinging of her to me until we drop, green moons, paper bags, humming, cold beer, pictures on the fridge drawn by children, the stars rimmed with red, weeds, tomato plants, vivid photography, and to be touched.
All the way to the bitter end. My weapons are my words and I am here to tell you they are covered in blood. The blood of accursed poets who have stood on this ground and walked with me through more broken doorways than bones can crumble.
I have loved them all. I have loved them in the quick, dead, and middle of the precious night delirious with survival. I have loved them where the sun has struck treehouses and boats and lofts and reservations and deserts and down rivers and on tall sailing ships and I have sailed those as well.
Answered prayers. Until it’s written. The thing will haunt you minute after minute and just like Streckfus, you will have to run until you write it down.
For this life is a such a curse midair and backwards spin and blind and suffering in silence and roll out the clenching pain — they say Hemingway has been dead a while but I do not believe it — and even drunk the designs of time have been singing voodoo in my ear.