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Footnotes on the Poet, by Mary Grimm

The poet left many papers, and his cousin, who appointed himself his literary executor, separated them into plastic boxes bought at a container store. He didn’t throw anything away so it would be possible for future researchers to examine the poet’s second grade report card (Comments: Stares out the window. Doesn’t like to use eraser.) or his chronologically arranged grocery receipts from 1989-93.

Everyone loved him, except some of those from his MFA program, and several ex-students, and his former wives. It was rumored that he’d been brutal in the workshop, although afterward he would apologize, saying that he just wanted the victims to be the best they could be.

He slept with his female students, but everyone did back then. (Power imbalances were unknown.) He married several of them, which for some people makes it better, and for others, worse.

Once he invited a sophomore girl to his apartment for dinner, ostensibly to discuss her poetry. Forty years later, she was still incensed. It put her off poetry altogether, which he would probably have said was just as well, which should tell you something about him.

He liked parakeets and had a dozen or more, although not all at once. Usually he had two or three at a time, in a large cage they shared in the dining room. When no one was around, he let them out. They liked to roost on his head or shoulders.

He never went on vacations, although he traveled often to poetry conferences and events where he wore his usual clothes plus a homburg hat which gave him (he thought) the air of an international spy.

The poet’s cousin didn’t like him, in fact, he despised him. But he thought there might be money in being an executor, in which belief he was mistaken.

The poet’s last wife told the cousin to do whatever he wanted with the papers. She had just watched a Netflix series on disburdening yourself of unwanted things, and she realized that neither the papers nor the memory of the poet had given her joy for a while. If he were still alive, she might have put him in the heap of things gathered in the middle of their living room to be labeled “Keep” “Give Away” “Discard.”

The poet loved his third wife best, but he discovered this only when he was halfway through the next marriage. He wrote some of his best mid-to-late poems about her, published in a book called The Bitter of the Suite, for which he was shortlisted for several prestigious prizes.

The poet’s father was still alive when the poet died and stubbornly lived for nineteen months more, dying at 91. (He had been poking around in his shed, suffered a catastrophic stroke and died, possibly before his body froze.) If the poet had still been alive, he would have been sure to get a poem out of it. His father was one of his favorite subjects, the fountainhead, some said, of his writing in his early years, blessed as he was by his father’s cantankerousness and staunch opposition to everything the poet wanted or held dear.

Are we not to talk about his work, his words, his stanzas, his pantoums and haibuns? He wrote a lot of them, collected in eight books and a final Collected Poems. He was no Robert Frost, rhapsodizing about nature. His subject was man, he was known to say, in all his foibles and flaws. He wrote often about the sexes and the war between them, which he saw as the natural way of the universe. He was known to write satirical verse about prominent feminists.

He loved winter.

Profile drawing of a horse's head, fur drawn as words and scribbles
The Charge of the Light Brigade, by Lex Lucius

He loved the dishes of his childhood, which had been prepared by his mother in the lapses between her own battles with his father. Dishes of macaroni, of long-stewed meat, of fruit from a can made elegant with the addition of a cherry. She was not above the occasional gelatin salad.

He was, for a short while, a Communist, but everyone was then. He never joined the party but liked to imply that he had, in certain company.

He won many prizes but the biggest eluded him. His fourth wife pointed out that it might have been different if he’d been nicer to people when he was young, but he considered being nice a luxury poets can’t afford.

His father had intended him to be a dentist, a profession he regarded with horror. Even into his old age, he sometimes had nightmares about open mouths, the teeth in them gnashing and grinding.

He loved his first wife, before he knew that love was temporary.

He had a plan for the poems of his very old age, the aging poet standing in the stiff breeze of history, writing on mortality and the good death. He expected to die like Tolstoy, in a train station, or Norman Brookfield, in the last days of the Spanish Civil War. Instead, there was a broken hip and a short decline in a hospital gown.

He never wrote about his mother, who died when he was seven, because he was afraid to make her smaller on the page, that the tenuous memories he had would evaporate when he tried to pin them down.

He might have written about his children, but he had none, which he blamed on his wives.

There was a story they told about him at his university, that he had walked out of his class one day with no explanation. The class sat there waiting for him to come back for five or ten minutes, and then had left in ones and twos. The last to leave was the sophomore girl, who did her homework for other classes, and left when the hour was up.


Mary Grimm has had two books published, Left to Themselves (novel) and Stealing Time (story collection) by Random House, and a number of flash pieces in places like Helen, The Citron Review, and Tiferet. Currently, she is working on a YA thriller. She teaches fiction writing at Case Western Reserve University.


Lex Lucius lives in the Roaring Fork valley just north of Aspen, Colorado, tucked into the Rocky Mountains. His life is full of family, painting, and horses, and his clothes smell of the stable, and on far too many days, his boots of the pasture. Less than five minutes from his painting studio is the stable where his wife keeps her jumping horses and his daughter her pony. When he drives over to watch them ride, which he does several times a week, he passes by a field of polo ponies. It’s these ponies that have become his favorites to paint because he loves their small muscled bodies and sees such strength and determination in their movements. At the stable, the warmbloods are huge muscled yet incredibly calm animals, even in his paintings they have a sureness of movement and a stillness that speaks of this confidence.

Lucius tries to invoke the feelings he gets from these animals but just as importantly he also tries to bring the stories and dreams we all carry within us when we think of horses and what horses mean to us all. He focuses on art he wants to see, art that makes him feel. It is his hope that these paintings bring out feelings of comfort and connection in the viewers also.


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