This will be the first major publication of one of my books in the US that I haven’t crossed the pond for – and so salutations to my American readers; I write to you from my London fastness, tucked up snugly at the top of my 1848 house in sarf London, looking across the rooftops to where Renzo Piano’s Shard upthrusts, a teasing A la recherche de priapisme perdu. I have mixed feelings about not making it over – I am, of course, a demi-American on the maternal side, and hold a US passport, so the States is not so much close to me as engrafted. On the other hand, if I have any nationality at all, it’s Londonish, and the older I get, the less I like to stray.
That William Empson should be there was, perhaps, less surprising than his demeanour, which was courtly yet randy, frayed but impressive. He sat in the dugout held fast in the earth’s shivery embrace, his hands fidgeting with pen, paper, cigarette, small fetish items – a signet ring, a netsuke.
Up they come the man and the boys – up they come. Up they come, the man and the boys – stepping lightly, the cuffs of their trousers flicking at bracken and thistles: twill against barbs and fronds. No contest.
The matter of my relationship with Max’s widow has to be addressed, so, although I have never met her I arrange to spend a couple of months in the Central European town where I know she lives.
The Buckminster Fuller reverie needs must be recounted – it is so full of the sweetness of life, an ineffable sweetness compounded from lost love of all fathers, brothers, kind paternalists who might once have sheltered me from the truth: life breaks off your penis at the haft.
Impressed by this young man, the author of a book critiquing the demonisation of the British working class, I follow him into the gothic revival church on the Gloucester Road. I used to live in this area! I call after him – but he cannot hear me.
A former candidate for the Tory leadership and I bare-knuckle box beside the Watts Towers in LA. His profile – plump, sweaty, vinous – looks absurd against the spiralling ironwork, but he punches hard, and the crowd gasps as he lands blow after blow on me. We clinch, and the clinch becomes an embrace – we are having sex under a floral-patterned duvet, downtown in the garment district. He cracks a popper under my nose and everything goes blue and then black.
At the Scots service station there’s a Korean restaurant serving pickles and strips of grilled beef – also a large bookstore reminiscent of Powell’s in Portland, Oregon: long, high shafts stratified with a great lode of books, and a pervasive smell of fresh paper and ink.
The cars are parked behind a corrugated iron fence – an old humped Saab, a broad and finned Ford Zephyr estate, and a Citroën DS. The DS is mine – or at least I have the use of it. I certainly used to have a car like this. The fence surrounds a muddy islet, its ragged edge bridging small embayments against which the still muddier waters of the lagoon lap.
I happen to be there for the death of S – we argued once, and I have never forgotten or forgiven. He had grown monstrously fat while moribund, and now dollops of his corpse protrude from the windows of the squat, quaint old house. The undertakers, the family, ambulance and fire crews all stand around scratching their heads – what is to be done? The house will need to be dismantled to get him out. I feel my own mind to be beautifully organised – all my thoughts and feelings about S are perfectly arrayed, I’ve only to sit down on a ledge and write out his obituary. The newspaper print it in facsimile – in the original Biro.