Bobbie Louise Hawkins



1. Cyril in Texas

They called her Panna Gravy. All that money and looking for writers like accessories, hang them on her arm, make her look good. She figured she deserved the best. All that money.

She had an Irish poet at home, a little crazy, would come into the room walking on his knees, or on all fours someone said. It may have only been once but turned into a story, everybody likes the stories, makes chit-chat interesting. And she generated stories. All that money.

She went transatlantic, probably world-wide but nobody paid much attention until she went for Weiners. John Weiners was in and out of his own kind of sanity. Even when he was crazy he was more than most people who think they have it together .

When he was sane he was an angel, a soft smile in a room, seeing everything. A Boston boy, grew up poor and desperate, found men to love, some loved him back. There was always that shove of no money, no job. Just the writing. The poetry and the friends and the lovers he made as a poet.

He was graceful and elegant. No one goes more elegant than the poor when they can choose it. Bits of flair. A tossed scarf, the head held right.

Have I mentioned that he was lovable. His friends loved him. People who never met him and could hear that soft Boston Irish voice in his poetry loved him.

Everybody knew it when he was in the nut house. They didn't want him to be there. They didn't want him hurting. And everybody knew when he was out, gracing the rooms again. Making the air sweeter.

Being queer was his joy but he was Catholic, with all that sin hanging there if he thought about it. And in or out of the nut house, the church, his history, his pages, lover's beds, lying out on beaches in the summer with strange men, lying in bushes in the park, in and out of living his moment to moment life there was always the poverty, the bad teeth, the shoes that almost fit.

She sighted him. She liked crazy or she liked Irish, or both. He was a pushover.

She picked him up and dropped him in her purse. All that money.

She was his first woman. She solved it all. Sin gone, queer gone. More of everything than he had ever known. The whole wide world. Italian suits hand tailored in Italy. Good soap. Hotels everywhere. Not much poetry, but the good life. The really good life. Fear only a memory.

He stayed very sane, fear and desperation at bay.

It was like that for awhile. Then he was back in Boston. She was back in London. She'd fly back and forth.

He got a job. The most unlikely person in the world to teach in a University. He got a job teaching in Buffalo, New York. There were two of them. Him and Charles Olson. What a line-up. One man, AI Cook, head of the department, saw the two of them, hauled them in, against what odds?

To go back awhile, when she met Weiners she met him with Olson. Plenty of people said she wanted Olson but he was wary. Said she went for Weiners to get to Olson. That was mostly said later. Later it looked like it. Or she was just following her marketing pattern, her fashion pattern, last year's, who wants it. And for fallback there was always the one she had at home, playing the fool for laughs, on his knees or whatever, resident poet, mascot, on his knees or whatever.

And a lot of drinking. Expensive stuff, wine, whiskey, brandy, all the stuff. Nothing jazzes sex-drive like booze, drops those edges, faces like information, bodies tense and languid, faces so close words turn into breath.

What a life.

Then she stopped going back and forth, stopped writing, no telegrams, no phone calls. John hovered, waiting. He waited.

Bob and John had a reading in New York and the three of us drove there, John saying "I don't know what's up. She won't answer the phone." He knew what was up. Same old story whatever the sex, whatever, the old brush-off.

We checked into the Chelsea. Met downstairs in the lobby, a painting on every wall, good painters' worst paintings.

We went into the house restaurant, the "Quixote", to eat something. Despite heart-worry John was at his best, with friends, enroute to read with Bob whom he loved.

The menu came. Credit cards weren't rampant then, not for people like us. John says he only has a couple of dollars, Bob only has a couple of dollars. They look at me. I have thirty or forty. We start the figures, some wine, some food, some coffee, a tip, it adds up too fast, so what, we didn't come to the city to eat. We can manage it and we relax back.

The door to the lobby opens, a tall woman, down from an upstairs room, purse dangling from one arm, martini glass in hand, already feeling it, she weaves over to a table, sits down.

John sits rigid frozen, can't believe it, says "It's Panna."

When he can make his legs work he gets up, goes over to her table sits down, a little time passes, she gathers her glass and purse, they come back to our table.

I'd never met her. I still didn't. She was telling John the list of who wasn't coming to the reading. Nonstop list. It sounded like everybody. A name then "wanted to but can't make it, said to say hello, out of town." A largesse of not much to hope for.

A crashing dispersal, voice with that slightly higher pitch an English accent sometimes takes for granted, constant scream at conversational level. No longer moving into an evening with the pleasure of anticipation, we were going where everyone else wasn't.

All amity and ease and calculating the menu gone, just her voice and in my mind whether she'd pay for her own dinner.

She signed for it all. Of course. We had all stayed with our meager choices, more than enough before the money drifted in, now I thought of what I'd have ordered had I known, flashier and more expensive. That's what wealthy people do to me, make me mean around the edges.

The reading was good. The room was filled with friends and lovers and readers and writers, enough to bring reality back.

We went back to the Chelsea, the four of us, and some others, to John's room. Panna laid out athwart the bed with John sitting on the edge of it. They went to the bathroom to talk.

I was talking to Rene Ricard, one of the world's great talkers. He wanted me to come to Warhol's studio, The Factory, the next day so he could take pictures and make a video. I said I couldn't, we were driving on to Bard in the morning for another reading.

They came out of the bathroom with John silent and unhappy. Panna reclaimed the bed, had the phone, was making a call to Olson in Gloucester, who was, apparently, waiting for it no matter how late. She spoke, handed the phone to John, he spoke, the phone was cradled, Panna left.

The gist was that Panna was leaving the next day, returning to London, Olson was going with her. This year's model.

I don't know whether it was then, in the bathroom, that Panna told John she'd been pregnant by him and had an abortion. I don't know whether, when he was unhappy she did tell him, as others said, that she didn't want a child bya queer who was crazy. If she ever really said that I assume it was said more gracefully but when I heard it it was said like that.

So Panna was gone, and Charles was gone, and the baby that never happened was gone, and John was bound to and did spiral down, then come back up, then go down, and finally pretty much stay there.

That could have happened without her but it's worse that it happened with her, Italian suits wearing out, world ease wearing out, John in Boston with people who loved him sticking, taking care of him, a definitive, as they say, collection of his work got together by Raymond Foy. Good guy Raymond.

And John's dead now. And Charles is dead now. And it all goes on, like that, never or almost never a clearcut piece of meat, just the endless stew and soup.