Matt Vadnais






The Dead: [1] [2] [3]

Epilogues: [4]

On the website, Tito has included excerpts of several of Sarah Pratt-Tipkins's most famous poems, from all of her major periods, the early experiments with form, her later adherence to a deca-syllabic line, and, of course — relatively late in her career — her practically religious conversion to Marxism.
      We wrote the poems together. We did excerpts, mostly, so that we didn't have the obligation of starting or ending anything. If you don't understand them, there are missing, unwritten stanzas that you probably need in order to appreciate the poem as a whole.
      We took it seriously, but it's true that we are not poets.
      Still, because the poems are attached to celebrity, the chat-room reviews have been kind. There is even one woman, Clvlnd_Grl45, who insists that Sarah Pratt-Tipkins is one of her biggest influences. She quotes, here and there, from her favorite pieces. She is sure to tell us that she might not have the poems exactly right.
      I know that, sooner or later — if you are still watching — you might try to find her work. I know that you won't find anything. Most of the people watching won't bother checking, and for now there is plenty of proof. We have included citations from various Kansas towns thanking her for charity work, for benefits, for appearances at high schools. In addition to the poems, there are short essays. You can see the obituary, a few poems written by her contemporaries — who you are more familiar with — in honor of her passing.
      And, of course, there is the house.
      When the sun goes back down, the interior lighting draws attention to our best work, the slightly-darker       living-room ceiling the makes the space open and intimate at the same time, a quality that a few voices in the chat-room have ascribed to her poems.
      If our history does not hold up to scrutiny, it also doesn't wither from it. Proving someone didn't exist is no easy task, especially when, for these thirty-six hours, there is no denying that Sarah Pratt-Tipkins was s very real, exemplary human being.
      Looking at the house, reading her work, and the small, public reaction to it, I find myself wishing I had been able to meet Sarah, especially when my parents died, or my career ended.
      But Sarah Pratt-Tipkins was not alive.
      And that's a shame, even if her early work was self-indulgent, even if she never wrote a better book than Sound, even if her political conversion was a last ditch effort to assuage guilt from her wasteful Hollywood years.
      What I am experiencing, weighing the balance of her unlived life, is a grief undiluted by the baggage of an actual relationship, undiluted by the guilt of having failed her in one way or another. Without the haunting comfort of remembering her face, or how she drank her tea with both hands, I am free to mourn.

Tito is not reverent.
      He finds it especially funny when Clvlnd_Grl45, who has been with us for fourteen hours, provides the final stanzas to several of the poems we have excerpted.
      But she is not the only one to share in creating the Pratt-Tipkins legacy. Several others are adding gossip, telling us things they think they remember hearing. By the end of our broadcast, Sarah Pratt-Tipkins left behind two ex-husbands and a daughter who may or may not still live in Germany.
      With two hours left, we discover that she also left an about-to-be-published manuscript of prose poems that — according to the buzz Manpoet23 heard — take her work in yet another unanticipated direction.

I have Theresa's toothbrush.
      By now she has been in California for some time. I am not sure if they will live there, or if they are visiting. On their way somewhere else, up the coast to Portland, perhaps.
      Either way, she has seen the ocean now.

A full month after the Pratt-Tipkins broadcast, we are in Ames, Iowa, repainting a house that had been broken into student apartments. We had to buy the whole thing, and wait two weeks for tenants to move out. Nonetheless, it was worth the wait to get the tiny one-bedroom apartment where Tony Newcome wrote Twice Shy, his only novel, before he died in 1986 at the age of 24.
      We are painting the house into further disrepair, adding a sadness that must have influenced the tone of his lone, great work. The street is busy, a lot of dogs, but no one says hello, and I am able to distract myself with the work.
      Wellbutrin is in charge of making paint peel, of half stripping the walls.
      He thinks that Newcome died of a heroin overdose. We all agree that Newcome was a user, in his late teens, but Tito and I don't want it to have killed him.
      "No one listens to junkies," Tito says.
      "We did Burroughs," Wellbutrin says.
      "But he didn't die of it," Tito says. "A junkie who dies of something else is a former junkie."
      "How about a bee sting?" I ask. "To put so much into your blood and be killed by a bee."
      "I still think heroin," Wellbutrin says, pulling on a strip of paint with his fingers. "I don't think people change all that much."
      He is looking at Tito when he says it, but Tito doesn't notice.
      "The world," Tito says, "doesn't need another story about a black man who destroyed himself."
      Wellbutrin and I don't say anything. It occurs to me that I was working on assumption that he was white, but that we are due for a person of color. I don't know how I feel about forging a racial identity, but there is no question, thinking about it, that Tony Newcome was black.

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