The Poet and his MuseThe Poet and his Muse


Jason Petrov stood at the stove and stirred his oatmeal. He repeated the line of poetry he had been working on since dawn, trying to get it right, but the telephone’s shrill ringing shattered his concentration. Fuck! He slammed his spoon down on the counter. Why can’t I be left alone? Before picking up the phone, he noticed the empty bird feeder outside his kitchen window, then took a deep breath to suppress his anger before picking up the receiver. He spoke calmly, then stiffened at the voice on the other end. “Allison! What do you mean you’re on your way here?” He glanced down at his dog, Oscar, whose whimpers indicated he wanted to go out. Jason held up one finger to Oscar as if saying, “one minute,” then spoke into the receiver. “You’re lost!” He ran his fingers through his thinning, gray hair. “I didn’t know you were coming here. I don’t know what to say.” When she announced she was at the food-coop in town, he swallowed, oh no, then said, “Well, you aren’t too far. Since you’re here, I’ll give you directions.” He walked back into the kitchen, took a deep breath, glanced at his oatmeal in the pot and told her what road to take and to watch out for the big rock on her left, then turn into his lane and keep going through the woods and around a bend, then she’d see a big willow tree on the right and then she’d see his cabin. “See you soon.” He pressed his angry thumb hard on the cordless phone, then slammed it on the counter and stared at it. I don’t believe it. This is nuts. She’ll be here in ten fucking minutes.” He glanced up at the apple-shaped clock and saw it was eight-thirty-five and knew he wouldn’t have time to continue working on the poem. While waiting for Allison, he stood at the stove and gave the oatmeal a stir and tried to remain calm, but couldn’t. “Damn,” he muttered half to himself, annoyed that Allison Rubin was going to show up, unexpected and uninvited, to intrude on his quiet, simple life. All he wanted was to be left alone so that he could work on the book of sonnets he had been writing for the last six months. After spooning the oatmeal into a bowl, he sprinkled raisins, stirred in a little honey and cinnamon and took the bowl to the round oak table where he had his laptop and notebook, and where he spent most of every morning writing. He looked out the window again, noting the empty bird feeders and tried to remember the line he was trying to get right before the phone rang.“I don’t know about young people today. They just do what they want.” Though Jason felt flattered that a graduate student would want to do a study of his six books of poetry, he never expected she would just show up at his door. He remembered Allison saying she thought his last book was by far his best work and deserved much better reception than it had received. It was a book published ten years earlier. Jason knew very little about Allison. He had no idea what she looked like. All he knew was she was a young woman getting her doctorate in literature from the University of Boston and had now made the uninvited five hour trip to his cabin in Maine. She had emailed him eight months earlier telling him that she had discovered his poetry in a used bookstore in Cambridge and knew instantly she had to do her doctorate on his work. She said she was “blown away” by his poetry. Surprised and delighted by her enthusiasm and desire to study his work for her PhD, he agreed to answer some questions and help her in anyway he could. He also told her how much he valued his privacy and time and might not always be available. All of their emails had been focused on the poems in his earlier books, the techniques he was experimenting with and his use of metaphors and imagery, but also what was going on in his life at the time in an attempt to put the poems in context. Jason was impressed with how serious and disciplined Allison was and how probing and insightful her observations were, often pointing out things in the poetry that he had not been aware of. He thanked her when she shared her appreciation of a poem or a particular line, and they often sent three or four emails back and forth in a day when discussing a particular topic. Then one day, Allison asked if he minded having an online chat and Jason agreed it would be faster and easier. The chats were definitely more efficient and focused mostly on Jason’s later books. Emily always had her questions prepared, took notes, then typed a new question into the chat and waited for his response. One time, she asked if he had Skype and he wrote back, “No, and I don’t I have any intention of getting it.” “That’s cool,” she wrote back. Gradually, as they corresponded and chatted about his poetry, she would ask him what was happening in his personal life and their on-line conversations became friendlier and a little more casual. He mentioned that he baked bread and told her what he had planted in the garden and that deer were browsing in front his cabin, but he never revealed anything too personal. Recently, towards the end of one of their chats, Allison mentioned she was having personal problems and difficulty concentrating. A week had passed and he hadn’t heard from her, which surprised him, because previously she had contacted him at least every bursa escort two days with a question. Then, a week ago, he received an email that she had broken up with her lover of two years and she was in a bad way. She might have to take a break from her writing, and then added how much she appreciated the time he was giving her, and again told him how important she thought his work was and that he deserved to be better known. Jason liked that someone was so interested in his work and his life, especially after having not published a book for ten years. Rarely was he invited to give a reading and he was now resigned to the fact that he was pretty much forgotten after being so acclaimed for his work and his influence on younger poets. It had been twenty years since winning the Pulitzer for his second book, The Hole in the Wall and fifteen years since receiving the National Book Award for his fifth book, The Hills of Shangri la. Five years lapsed before his sixth and final book On Extended Wings was published ten years ago with little notice. He recognized he was being replaced by the next generation of poets who were now the darling of the literary magazines and the critics for the New York Review of Books and the New Yorker. No longer was he mentioned or published or invited for one or two year positions as Poet in Residence at various universities. Now, he was a reclusive poet in the woods, living on social security, writing everyday and wondering what, if anything, would become of all the new poems he had written. Not many poets were writing sonnets these days or cared about traditional forms. Jason finished his oatmeal and was rinsing out the bowl when he heard Oscar bark and saw a red Saab drive up and park next to his rusting green pick-up truck. Through their e-mail messages, he had learned she was thirty-five, had entered graduate school ten years after finishing second in her class at Dartmouth, but that was it. All of their conversations had been purely professional up until six or so weeks earlier when the tone had changed slightly. And now, here she was, suddenly showing up. Why? Jason stood on his small porch while Oscar, barking, ran down the long, winding path towards her. Allison got out and waved over the roof of her car, then leaned back in to get her red backpack, her laptop satchel and a briefcase. He could see she was small with long, dark hair, but that was all until she started walking up the path. Now, he could see she was a slender woman wearing snug, faded jeans, cowboy boots, a long green, unbuttoned flannel shirt that covered a black turtleneck. She waved again as she made her way up the path, then knelt down to pet Oscar who was still barking. When she stepped up on the porch, she looked around at her surroundings, took a deep breath of relief that she had arrived, then reached out to shake Jason’s hand. “Bet you’re surprised to see me.” “You can say that again.” Jason said sarcastically, barely able to hide his annoyance, but was struck by the smallness of her hand in his. Her blue eyes sparkled. Dimples formed when she smiled. Her high cheekbones, olive skin and long, dark curly hair gave her a somewhat wild, exotic look. “So, what are you doing here?” He stood tensely in front of the closed screen door, glaring and attempting to suppress his anger by taking a deep breath. Jason liked to think of himself as a person who could “go with the flow,” but Allison’s sudden appearance not only angered him, but now, seeing how lovely she was, only added to his conflict. “I know it was crazy. I can’t explain it. I just wanted to be here. I know you’re upset with me just showing up.” “Well, you’re here, so I better get used to it.” Jason held the screen door open. “You might as well come in.” When they entered the kitchen, her eyes widened as she looked up at the wooden ceiling and noticed the skylights, the sunlight pouring in the large windows, the bird feeders, the round oak table with Jason’s laptop and notebook. “Wow, your place is amazing. I tried imagining it, but this is nothing like I imagined.” Jason liked her enthusiastic response, her radiant smile, the way her eyes moved around the room, how, after she put her backpack and computer satchel on the floor, she rubbed her hand over the wooden counter. He also noticed her breasts stretching the black turtle neck, barely covered by the unbuttoned flannel shirt and how her hips and round ass strained her snug faded jeans. “So why are you here?” Jason asked. “To tell you the truth, I don’t really know. It’s complicated. That’s why I’m here.” “What do you mean it’s complicated? What made you drive five hours without letting me know and just showing up. I have to admit I was upset when you told me you were nearby and asked for directions. I’m not used to visitors.” “Sorry I upset you. I knew you wouldn’t like it. I mean, you told me many times how you want to be left alone, but I couldn’t help it. I had to come.” “What do you mean you had to come? I don’t understand.” Allison shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t understand either. I don’t know what to say.” Oscar sniffed at her scuffed boots while Jason gazed at her in awkward silence, then reached for his white teapot on the stove. “How about some bursa escort bayan coffee or tea? I might as well be hospitable. ” “Coffee would be great. Make it strong, I’ve been on the road since four this morning.” She took a deep breath before speaking. “It’s hard to explain why I’m here. Why I had to come.” “I’m all ears. I’d like to know why you think you had to come here without at least letting me know.” “Yeah, sorry about that.” Allison shrugged again.“I’ll try to explain.” “ Good,” Jason said and lit the flame under the tea pot. “Well, you know I broke up with my boyfriend, I wrote you that, but what you don’t know is it was because of you.” “Me!” Jason’s eyes widened. “What do you mean it was because of me? What did I have to do with you breaking up with your boyfriend?” “He was jealous. I mean, it’s true I kept talking about you and your poetry a lot and he knew I was reading everything I could find, every article, every review, all the interviews, especially the one in Paris Review…that was amazing, Jason, that interview and also the article you wrote for Atlantic Monthly about the importance of poetry in a computerized society, and how you asked what it means to be human in a highly technological society and that was way before computers took over like they have. That one was visionary, really, sorry to be rambling.” “That’s okay, but I still don’t get it, what do you mean he was jealous…jealous of what?” “You.” Allison bit her lower lip, paused and took a deep breath. “He said all I ever talked about was you and if I wasn’t talking about you, I was writing about you, or reading about you, then one night he kept asking me to come to bed. It was late and I’m a night person and was really into writing and he blew up and yelled, ‘You’re in love with that fucking poet!’ I tried to calm him down and told him he was being ridiculous. We had a huge fight. He was angry a lot and to tell you the truth, I began to realize he was a baby, really. I tried to reassure him that I loved him and wanted to be with him, but then I saw he was right.” “What do you mean he was right?” When the teapot’s shrill whistle interrupted, Jason listened to Allison while filling the French Press with steaming water. “I don’t know. I mean, he was right that I talked about you a lot, but then I started thinking about how I felt when I read your poetry. It wasn’t just the words, but it was something more, like I could feel your spirit, like I thought you were speaking directly to me. It’s so hard to explain. I told you I found your book in a used book store in Cambridge and was blown away, and I knew I had to read everything and that’s what I did. I got out all of your books from the library. I was just finishing graduate school at Boston University and had to have a topic for my dissertation. I had several poetry courses, you know, the eighteenth century classical poets, the Romantics, I did a great paper on Blake by the way, and Keats, you would have loved my paper on Keats, ‘heard melodies are sweet but those unheard are sweeter’ I love that line. And then I was studying Twentieth Century poets, Frost, Eliot, Pound, Wallace Stevens, a bunch of others. I had never heard of you until I found your book in that used book store. I googled you and well, here I am.” “I know you’re here, but I’m not following you. Why are you here?” “I had to find out what was going on with me. So here I am. I couldn’t stop thinking about you, dreaming about you, talking about you. I can see now why Kevin was upset with me and why he couldn’t stand you, even though he knew nothing about you and why he just stormed out of our apartment. That’s when we broke up. It was irrational, I thought and I was in a bad way, confused, hurt, upset, but then I woke up last night. I sat up in bed like I was hit with lightning and had this feeling.” “What feeling?” Jason asked. “I had to see you in person. I mean I have lots of pictures of you from different magazines and I know you’re a lot older than me by twenty-eight years and you’re going to think I’m some whacky woman, but I was drawn here. I wasn’t sure if it was me being romantic, which I am, super romantic, but I was having sexual fantasies about you. ” “Allison! I had no idea. Our conversations were always so focused on my work. You seemed so disciplined and serious. I know that recently we started writing to each other about different things, and I knew you were having problems with your boyfriend, but I never felt there was something sexual. It never occurred to me.” “How could you? I knew how you said you valued your time and privacy and though I was dying to talk about other things, I kept it professional just out of respect for you.” “Thank you.” Jason moved his computer and notebook aside, then brought two mugs to the table. They were silent as he poured coffee into her mug and into his. He brought over his honey bowl then asked, “Would you like cinnamon in your coffee?” “Wow! You like cinnamon, too. That’s so cool. I love cinnamon in my coffee.” Again, Jason had to chuckle at her enthusiastic response while he got his little jar of cinnamon and placed it on the table with a spoon. When Allison moved to sit down, her leg brushed his thigh. Jason tried escort bursa ignoring the subtle jolt that rushed through him. That felt good, he gasped, then dismissed the sensation as being foolish but was surprised that such a tiny touch had awakened something deep in him, somehow reminding him what it felt like to be near a woman. “I know I’m probably upsetting your life by suddenly showing up like this,” Allison said as she added the cinnamon to her coffee but no honey. “But well, you write a lot about following your dreams and passions, that’s one of the themes in your poems that I loved, and I wrote a lot about that, also, your ideas and feelings about destiny, very complex but fascinating, how you think everything is random, things just happen.” “Yes, destiny and randomness are big themes of mine. And you’re right I do write a lot about how I followed my dreams, that’s one of the reasons I’m here in the woods.” “Yes, I know.” Allison looked at Jason over the rim of her coffee mug. “And that’s one of the reasons I’m here.” “What are you saying?” Jason raised his eyebrows, baffled by her statement. He watched her take a quick sip of coffee and liked how pretty she looked sitting in the sunny window. He glanced down at Oscar sniffing her backpack and computer case. “Are you saying you’re following a dream?” “Damn this is hard for me.” Allison held the coffee mug away from her mouth and took a deep breath, “But when I found myself fantasizing about you after writing all afternoon and sometimes late into the night, I wondered if I was falling in love with you just from reading your poetry. I was captivated. I felt I knew you. I could feel your breathing. Now I know why my boyfriend was jealous. I had hot fantasies of you. I wanted you.” Jason swallowed and didn’t know how to respond to Allison’s blunt and direct words. Her honesty touched him, excited him. Though the accidental brushing of her thigh against his when she sat down had sent a bolt through him, he dismissed the sensation as his being foolish while also acknowledging how pretty she looked sitting in the sunny window, confessing why she felt compelled to come to him. Her words surprised and confused him. He had no idea that the woman who had been so professional and focused on her study of his work was so enticing. It never occurred to him, but now, after suddenly showing up and explaining why she was here, he wasn’t sure what to do or say. All he knew was he was struggling to keep his arousal from growing while realizing Allison was young and vulnerable, and it would be wrong for him to let anything happen. She’s young enough to be my daughter, he thought and knew he would have to control the situation and not let anything complicate his life. After an awkward silence, sipping his coffee, seeing Allison’s eyes gazing into his, Jason took a deep breath. “Allison, I’m too old for you. It would be wrong for me to take advantage of you.” “That’s so stupid.” Allison put her coffee mug down and stiffened, changing the atmosphere in the room. “No it’s not. It would be a huge mistake. It was foolish of you to come all the way here with your sexual fantasy. There’s no way I would let that happen.” Jason was trying to ignore her blue eyes, how her breasts strained her shirt, how her brushing his thigh awakened memories he was trying to ignore. “Since when is age an issue with you?” she smirked. “Jason, I know about you and all the lovers you had after your wife died.” “You do, how do you know anything about that? That’s all gossip.” “You had a reputation. I interviewed some of your colleagues at Sarah Lawrence and at Bennington, then you taught at the University of Boston and I know some of the professors who are still there who remember you and they told me lots of stories, off the record, of course, since it had nothing to do with my dissertation, but that’s how I know.” “Well, some of that might be true, not that it’s any of your business, but that was then and this is now. I’m out of that scene and have been for almost ten years. That’s why I moved to Maine. My life was getting too complicated and I decided I wanted to write more and not have any more emotional turmoil. It got too distracting.” “Well, it also produced some of your best love poetry, so filled with yearning, I mean, your poetry is so erotic to begin with, so honest and your descriptions were so sensuous and subtle, so understated and suggestive that it made it really hot. And you know that, don’t you?” “Can we change the topic?” “Why, what’s wrong Jason?” “Nothings wrong. I just think we should not talk about this. I’m flattered that you feel so turned on by me, but this is ridiculous, you coming here thinking I’m just going to get in bed with you. It’s just wrong for me to take advantage of you coming all the way from Boston to fuck me. I won’t let that happen.” “Well, I guess I goofed.” Allison shook her head. “Forget it. I made a stupid mistake following my fantasies, I’ll deal with it.” “Good. That’s sensible,” Jason said and glanced at the empty bird feeder, then back at her. “I guess you’re right. I have to be sensible. Sorry I put you in this position.” Allison sighed, then stood up and glanced down at her backpack and computer. She went to the window and was quiet. Jason watched her looking at the flower boxes, then out at the garden in front of the cabin, the six raised beds lined with tree trunks, the daffodils and tulips on the hillside, the bird feeders, and the woods surrounding the cabin.

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