The potted white gardenia…

…pours aromas into the air. Its sweetness is almost too much, part of the almost too muchness of Key West altogether. Almost too many palms, shedding their skins along the sidewalk; almost too many orchids on the deck of UD‘s new home on her beloved Elizabeth Street.

Key West: Lush isle of lushes.

For a few weeks before she goes home to ‘thesda, UD has a house here.

The weather’s gone utopian again, so if you’re reading this from Fargo, forgive me. I’m in the best of all possible whirls, sitting in the breeze on a mild bright evening in the state of Florida.

Who is like unto thee, Florida? No one at all. A singular state.

My house borders Nancy Forrester’s Secret Garden, with its mad parrots, so until Nancy puts them to bed, I hear their wild cries behind my (her?) enormous wall of palms. Outside the secret garden, dusty roosters crow and crow and crow. A lush loud aromatic jungle is where I’m writing from.

When I was younger, my sister – the Morrissey fanatic – had an iguana, Fester. Fester creeped me out.

Yet here, ringed by little Festers, I’m enthralled.

So – animals and plants… But also the lazy intermittent sounds of humanoids home from work, relaxing into their own little gardens. It’s odd to think of people living routine lives in Key West, working in computer stores and shopping malls, manning the smoothie machines on Duval Street. Too poetic a kingdom for the prosaic.

UD, like her lonely betters, works too, writing the prosaic and the poetic.

Settling in…

… to my new house on the island.  Hence very few posts so far today.  Want to describe my digs, and have been wanting to write about Edmund Blunden’s poem, The Midnight Skaters.  Will do that after I get something to eat …

As forecast…

… the heat’s broken. It’s a clear, cool day on the island.

The breeze has swept the leaves from my deck.

Along the edges of the pool, two collared doves go hoo-hoo-hoo.

Live Blogging from the Key West Coffee Plantation, 9:54 AM

I already need a change of clothes.”

“It’s brutal.”


“It’s gotta go back.”

“It’s going to.  Supposed to be seventy degrees tonight.”

“Seventy!  Break out the long underwear.”

A Hot April Sunday in Key West

It’s Open House, and many Key West properties – glorious green islets with small pools behind ship carpenter’s cottages – are available for viewing. On Fleming and Elizabeth and Eaton, on hidden lanes like Poorhouse and Catholic and Gecko, Key West’s white eyebrow houses release their shutters and let you in. They’re on the market.

From the front hall you see clear to the blue water in the back, where cats and doves and lizards live. The massed palms and hibiscus hide the house and its water garden from view, so it is your world, your sunny windy palm-sheltered world alone.

How to convey the joy and comfort and excitement that this kinetic self-contained world makes me feel? I see myself so clearly, leaning into that chaise, typing on a keyboard on my lap and listening to the purling of water. I smell honeysuckle in the heat, and jasmine.


Even when it’s not Open House, I’m sidetracked always, on my long daily walks, by the mysterious beauty of the half-hidden islets of Key West. Some have little lettered signs by their front doors (One Martini Two Martini Three Martini… Floor!). All have bicycles thrown against the thin white columns of the facades. Seabirds stand on the tin roofs, and potted geraniums on the porches.

On the street in front of the houses very old women on Vespas wave at you and speed by.

The heat is enormous; you feel as though you’re walking through a mobile steamroom, a sauna tricked out just for you, steady hot air pushed through to make you sweat. There’s wind, but the wind’s hot too. So you pace yourself. You have to pace yourself.

You’re carrying a citrus smoothie you bought at Help Yourself, a food market so pure, raw, natural and organic you could plotz.


At Help Yourself, heat-addled UD ordered not a smoothie, but a coolie. I’d like a coolie, please. I’ll have a coolie. Maybe she was thinking about how nice it would be to be cool.

The woman at the counter understood what UD meant but looked at her funny, and it came to UD that she’d not only made a mistake, but used a derogatory word for an Asian laborer.

While she waited for the salads she’d also ordered, UD looked at two articles in a natural living magazine.

One was about a 57-year-old Danish former Playboy playmate who looked 27. She’d had no surgery, she said, but attained this result through eating “raw.” UD stopped reading at the word raw.

The other article was about a woman who left her bathroom every morning in an ecstasy because her shit didn’t smell since she started eating raw.


When she got home, UD eyed the ceiling fan hard at work in her bedroom and wondered if she could figure out a way to hang her damp bra from one of its blades.

UD’s Key West Neighbor

Len Homer lives across the hall, a warm and friendly man. I Googled him.

Here’s a 2008 piece about Len in Baltimore’s Style Magazine:

Birthday wake

Friday, June 20

The streets of Federal Hill were the backdrop for a “funeral” procession to celebrate (or grieve) the 70th birthday of neighborhood resident Len Homer. Ensconsed [That should be ensconced.] in a leopard-print lined coffin, Homer was paraded from his home through the streets to a big bash of a party at Junior’s Wine Bar. There, a New Orleans-style band kicked the party into high gear as guests nibbled Big Easy-style dishes from chef Mike Russell. On hand were lots of Len’s friends from the neighborhood like Patrick Sutton, Sheryl Segal, Dick Leech and Steve Ward; Camilla Carr handled MC duties in announcing the winners of the “best epitaph” contest. We stayed throughout the evening, since our seats at a table out on the sidewalk were the perfect vantage point for the festivities.

“If I had a dollar for every time I’ve ridden an elevator lately with someone muttering about how slow spring is to get here, I’d be in Key West.”

A Chicago Tribune columnist notes the very slow approach of spring to that city.

Having been in Key West for weeks now, I can confirm that spring – make that summer – has been here for awhile. And that for many reasons, only one of which is the weather, UD‘s finding it difficult to leave.

So she’s extended her stay. She’ll be moving to a new place soon, where she’ll spend April. Then she’ll go back to ‘thesda.

She’s been here on United Street long enough to have received mail. That anonymous agency she’s mentioned in other posts — the one interested in what she has to say about writing — has sent her some packages in the last few days, and it feels odd to realize that this apartment is also a business address.

Odd too to realize that this small island has become quite familiar to UD — her long walks have taken her to almost all of its streets, even its tiny lanes more like alleys: Poorhouse Lane, Catholic Lane. Catholic Lane, where a man hidden behind many palms called Les UDs over, escorted us through his white gate, and showed us his quiet compound: garden, house, pool, another garden, and then another building he and his wife were fixing up for a guesthouse. Their singular spot, their own green world with the sound of falling water.

It’s icing on the cake that we saw a rainbow a couple of days ago arching over the ocean.


After lunch at Sarabeth‘s, Les UDs went across the street and down to the end of School House Lane to visit Nancy Forrester’s Secret Garden.

Hidden among its overgrown ferny paths is an aviary lunatic asylum, a dark place where weirdly articulate parrots, caged like Bertha Rochester, hurl imprecations at you.

There must have been twenty or more of these livid obsessives in that evil place, turning and turning in their narrowing gyres, pressing their angry eyes up against the wires at you, flinging themselves off their perches and pecking about for feed…


All of them all at once, like Bette Davis as Baby Jane if they broadcast the film on one of Nam June Paik’s installations…

“Nothing’s the matter!” said UD as she fled. But she felt defensive saying it.

UD’s Post-Shuttle Whereabouts

I’ve got a short post up at Inside Higher Ed about this year’s recipient of the Templeton Prize; otherwise, I’ve spent today working on stuff for that anonymous agency  (I mentioned it in an earlier post) that has asked me to write about writing for them.  If anything dramatic comes of this agency’s overtures to UD, you’ll be the first to know.

Meanwhile, Les UDs are about to walk north to see the sunset.   They have heard from La Kid, who is on the beach in Negril.  She is very happy, and quite certain that her setting is even more beautiful than her parents’ setting.

Or maybe we’ll take a drive.  In our Chrysler Sebring convertible! Along with the Mini Cooper, the Smart Car, and the Prius, it’s a majorly popular car down here.

Hot damn.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think UD just saw the Space Shuttle!

Yes, laugh if you like and as I say please correct her if this is impossible, but UD was a moment ago sitting on her balcony enjoying the evening breeze when she saw in the distance, low on the horizon, a huge long pinkish flame that just seemed to stay in one place in the sky.

I mean, it didn’t look like something coming out of a jet, because the flames were too big, and anyway the aircraft didn’t seem to be moving in the sky the way a jet moves…

“Whazat?” UD asked herself out loud. (Mr UD had gone up to Mallory Square to see the sunset.)

Then she went inside and idly turned on the television, which informed her that, seconds ago, the Shuttle had taken off from Cape Canaveral…………………………………


F – U- U- U- CK.

The brilliant light emitted by the two solid rocket boosters will be visible for the first 2 minutes and 4 seconds of the launch out to a radius of some 520 statute miles from the Kennedy Space Center.

Depending on where you are located relative to Cape Canaveral, Discovery will become visible anywhere from a few seconds to just over 2 minutes after it leaves Pad 39-A.

Massed Hours of Life-Triumphant

We’re really not in Rehoboth anymore.

I’m on a boardwalk near Pier House, and the ocean beyond the ropes and poles is aquavelva.

The sky, divided from it by a thin line, is a weaker, more conventional, blue. Sky blue.

Pelicans and gulls rest on pilings. The pilings are graywhite against the aquavelva.

“Try to get it away from the pelicans and near the barracuda.”

A guy fishing off the pier gives advice to another guy who, having caught a small fish, drags it back and forth in the water in hopes of catching a barracuda with it.

“Fastest fish in the water,” the first guy says to me. “Had a big mackerel the other day and I’m reeling it in and here comes a barracuda and just grabs it.”

But I’m trying to get across the beaming fantasy, the crayola storyboard, of UD‘s current setting. Such a cotton candy concoction. Nature can’t be serious.

The cotton is the clouds, stretched out and using just enough of the sky to be picturesque. Seaplanes buzz beneath them.

“The gloss the sun puts on the surroundings – the triumph of life, so to speak, the flourishing of everything makes me despair.” This is Saul Bellow’s narrator in Ravelstein, describing a peak moment in Paris in June. “I’ll never be able to keep up with all the massed hours of life-triumphant.”

You feel that about the people around you along the water in Key West. There’s an unhappy assurance of their inability to keep up.

By far the best article I’ve read about Key West.

A model of good writing, complete with a clever rounding back to his literary theme at the end.

I found these two paragraphs in particular a precise evocation of what I see and feel every night.

Taking my cue from the Wallace Stevens poem ”The Idea of Order at Key West,” which describes the harbor at night, I found myself doing a lot of walking around Key West after dark – not just the harbor with its colored reflections (”emblazoned zones and fiery poles,” as Stevens writes), but the residential streets as well. It’s cooler for one thing, and you don’t have the distraction of the daytime tourist trolleys. The old frame houses, which somehow look New Englandy and tropical at the same time, send out light from their shuttered windows, sometimes through the beautifully complex interference of palm fronds.

All sorts of flower fragrances fill the air, plus the occasional pungency of deep-fried conch fritters when you pass one of the boatmen’s houses. The tropical plants – flame trees, orchid tree, royal poinciana, kapok, jacaranda – show handsomely in the lamplight. Occasionally you come into an open space where the sky looms into prominence, with high, heaped-up cumulus clouds against the midnight blue background, a scattered handful of stars, and perhaps a crescent moon.

It’s by Alfred Corn, and it came out in the New York Times in 1988.

If You Prefer Dos Passos…

… it looks as though his place is on the market too.

Much more expensive

Live in John Hersey’s House…

… for $500,000 (and the price keeps dropping). It’s a couple of blocks away from UD‘s place, and it’s part of a small hidden compound where Richard Wilbur, John Ciardi, and Ralph Ellison also lived.

Scroll down to 719 Windsor Lane.

From One Key West Poet to Another

Frost and Wallace Stevens were together on a train to Florida.

The two poets were nervous with each other. Stevens however was more in the vacationer’s mood. He made witty remarks, and finally said, “The trouble with your poetry, Frost, is that it has subjects.”

This begins to get at UD‘s problem with Frost. Many of his poems have a sort of didactic, subject-driven intentionality about them. Seamus Heaney talks about “the knowingness that mars [certain] poems by Frost.” Rather than gradually reveal the writer’s consciousness, and, in so doing, suggest the living, ongoing, tentative complexity of what one person thinks about the world, these poems simply, flatly, state the facts of existence. Their slightly over-engineered rhymes don’t help matters.

Robert Lowell notes what those subjects are: “[I]solation, extinction, and the learning of human limitation. These three themes combine, I think, in a single main theme, that of a man moving through the formless, the lawless and the free, of moving into snow, air, ocean, waste, despair, death, and madness. When the limits are reached, and sometimes almost passed, the man returns.”

Or not. In a poem like Desert Places, the experience of nothingness is all there is, without much movement, and therefore with no real return:

Snow falling and night falling fast, oh, fast
In a field I looked into going past,
And the ground almost covered smooth in snow,
But a few weeds and stubble showing last.

The woods around it have it — it is theirs.
All animals are smothered in their lairs.
I am too absent-spirited to count;
The loneliness includes me unawares.

And lonely as it is, that loneliness
Will be more lonely ere it will be less—
A blanker whiteness of benighted snow
With no expression, nothing to express.

They cannot scare me with their empty spaces
Between stars — on stars where no human race is.
I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert places.

The first rather panicky lines make us expect a serious reckoning with nothingness; we await the emotional effect of this blank world on the poet. But for me at least the rest of the poem reads like poetry rather than utterance, especially the awkwardly redundant “no expression, nothing to express.” It feels like a strategic poet manipulating words, rather than a consciousness responding to things.

Which is why the final lines are for UD at once wonderful and bogus. I mean, they’re perfect; the perfect ending to a poem about nihilism, depression, morbidness, all those subjects. But it’s too neat for me. I don’t, on some very important level, believe Frost. Not a drop of blood seems spilled.

Compare this similar poem by Auden. I mean, similar in that he’s trying also to evoke inner emptiness.

Brussels in Winter

Wandering through cold streets tangled like old string,
Coming on fountains rigid in the frost,
Its formula escapes you; it has lost
The certainty that constitutes a thing.

Only the old, the hungry and the humbled
Keep at this temperature a sense of place,
And in their misery are all assembled;
The winter holds them like an Opera-House.

Ridges of rich apartments loom to-night
Where isolated windows glow like farms,
A phrase goes packed with meaning like a van,

A look contains the history of man,
And fifty francs will earn a stranger right
To take the shuddering city in his arms.


Why is this a much better poem, IMHO?

Hold on. I need to take a break.

« Previous PageNext Page »

Latest UD posts at IHE