Julia Bobkoff reveals the private tragedy of William Faulkner’s life.
Tomorrow night is nothing but one long sleepless wrestle with yesterday’s omissions and regrets.
Hacking the bitterweeds out in the pasture,
–eulogy without relief–
Faulkner spoke to the rhythm of his scythe: If only, if only, if only…
for without a child he was nothing
without his pen and a drink,
without little Alabama…
nothing but a man sewn together by gut and bone into a three piece suit of Southern
hunched in the back of a black hearse, her pine bassinet rocked on his knees, slapped
down in the lap, memory blind
and blank as the white sheets he winds and winds into the Underwood, and winds
again, like a winding cloth– ah… husk of his imagination heavier than infancy,
weighted against his heart harder than the metal of the universal portable he carries
into the office of “The Shegog Place–” that antebellum house of dreams.
Yet every premature and infant breath, every, kicking soul, like the wrinkled
underside of poems, unwound
from a typewriter,
these firstborn hopes–
that gurgle and flutter from a far off room, lighter
than the shadows of moonlight and branches that lace the walls of his battered office,
where he snores–a derelict watchman,
yes, all these begging beginnings call to him…
so he must sleep and forget, and he hates himself for the little gasps,
the doctor-less decision, the paralysis, the ear tuned to her last, fleeting breaths against
his cheek, flesh of his flesh and longing for Estelle…
And after all that he has seen, long after the grave the size of one manuscript,
in his dreams on the leather couch that smells of tobacco and sweat and fear,
down-diving nose, again and again, of his brother Dean’s death,
can he crucify himself for pointing him to the sky, for the dream of wings?
Spiraling into a plume of guilt, fire like regret
burns out our bones, and loss is woven like brothers into the plot,
flesh of my flesh, regret of my regret.
The scythe decides the weeds the way a fine editor razors the dignity
from the proud spine, and the book shrinks a little, day by day.
Yet from potboilers to the Nobel Prize this life can not be contained or fully understood.
It stands: unapologetic.
A man of letters, disciplined in his blackouts, red-inked in the knuckles with revenge,
fighting the electric bill right down to the bottom of his brown-bagged bourbon–
do you see how he slices his fingers as he quickly unscrews the cap and bleeds into a
wastepaper basket at Warner Brothers, wasting no time, downing it still as he paints
the debris of scripts with his own life colors,
hoarse at times and heated, mustachioed or suave–hankering after the young, sending
so many to the premature soil beds, like Mississippi grass in springtime.
Was he not the author of misfortune, an empty incubator of manhood’s wishes,
a husband and a father who scattered his own seeds like reckless commas
in a run-on sentence of heated debate–mercurial, gentlemanly, lurid, astute,
tender, base, noble, shiftless, unmatchable and tragic.
Falkner and Faulkner,
the boy so eager to be shot out of a British bi-plane he fakes an accent and changes
the spelling of his name,
laughing at death with dirty limericks too sordid to print.
I hear him singing– still the young man’s eternal anthem: paper, food, tobacco, whiskey.
And the old man’s last ditty: paper, food, tobacco, whiskey.
And let’s not forget women…
so many names, so many plot twists he must write them all on the walls
to keep track, to keep track:
“Teach yourself by your own mistakes; people learn only by error.”
That is what he said to the novice writer.
But what he says, if you put your ear to the whiskers of graves,
so close you can smell the weeds amongst the widow’s flowers:
If only, if only, if only….
Photo—Carl Van Vechten/Wikimedia Commons