UNITED STATES—Darien is Panama’s easternmost region of dense jungle, swamps and lagoons full of jaguars, crocodiles and venomous snakes and lethal spiders. Only for the daring, desperate, stupid or intrepid. These are those who cross the treacherous land where the long ribbon of the Panamerican highway breaks. They enter this roadless no man’s land of dense jungle mountains, and swift flowing rivers. The crossing could take a few days to a week. Sam and his boy made it, and twice they came upon the bodies of those who hadn’t survived the trek. He taught his son not to avert his eyes or his nose.
Sam Delaney, (who became II instead of Jr. when his child was born when he was off flying planes in the war) was the apple of elder Sam’s eye. He knew every aspect of the operations of Allied Fruit Co. from the ground up and accompanied his dad and many a junket down to the isthmus, where he was indulged by the managers and the workers. They hiked over Darien Gap as his father had done a couple generations ago.
“Look what nature teaches us. It’s already breaking things down, of you see the gooey white threads,” Sam told Sam II.
Let John Keat’s speak:
On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer
Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star’d at the Pacific – and all his men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise –
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.
John Keats had a Halloween birthday, 1795, in London, and in Rome, died when he was 25. “HERE LIES ONE WHOSE NAME WAS WRIT ON WATER” the epitaph he left. Graydon Miller’s epitaph would be POET, and wherever I drop dead. It’s going to be fine, it’s going to be cool. Whether my dead bunkmates are Oscar Wilde or Janice Joplin or Robespierre. So be it!
Keat’s father perished in 1804, and his mother remarried pronto. They were a lusty clan, those Keats. Throughout his short, phthisic life John Keats was close to his sister, Fanny, and his two brothers, George and Tom. As an undergraduate Graydon Miller was entranced by Keats. He carried it as a shield, this book of complete poems picked up in that in Baroque Bookstore on Las Palmas. The owner said, “You picked the best book in the store.” For such an outré selection, it was invigorating to have a stamp of approval.
I had had my fill of my vagrant travels. Keats died when he was 25, though he can be included in the club of 27, since people had shorter lifespans back then. Twenty-five is old age when you are lashed by towering ambition. In Rome, he died. The poet’s knack for dropping dead in the coolest of places, where one must travel far to see you and be surprised that here you are planted. Especially the queer duck lassoed on the tour. Gosh yeah.
Keats is buried in Rome, where he had gone to convalesce after contracting tuberculosis. Aged 25, Keats left behind a collection of work that sings, made even more remarkable by the fact that he only decided to focus on his writing three years before his death, after abandoning medical studies. A walking trip he made to Scotland in the summer of 1818 played an important part in this decision-making process.
Accompanied by his friend, Charles Brown, the poet set off from London in mid-June of that year on a walking tour of northern England and Scotland. The expedition was pleasingly well-documented in a series of detailed letters Keats wrote to family and friends, while his companion kept a journal. His letters, should you be a student of literature and bitten by the bug, Keats letters are marvelous. In the course of them he goes from rough with conventional English language conventions to something ever clearer. You are witnessing an education, an ascent.
They took the coach from Carlisle to Dumfries, in southwest Scotland. The pair arrived on the afternoon of July 1, 1818. They forthwith went to visit Robert Burns’ grave in St Michael’s Churchyard before dinner. Hunger of course, as it always does, sloughed the veneration of the moment. John Keats declared in a letter to his brother, Tom, that the Robert Burns’ tomb was “not very much to my taste, though on a scale large enough to show they wanted to honour him”.
Aye, Robert Burns. Graydon Miller, the Wizard of Fiction, still had as a keepsake book of Robert Burns poems, they are so damn vernacular, but you’ve gotta love the vernacular over the stilted and ornate. Indeed, Robert Burns wrote in dialect. So happy the book is still with me—too beautiful to read, too beautiful to finger and perhaps leave greasy paw marks—even its own box embossed by gilded crowns.
It had surely languished in the Scottish shop for many a moon, memento of Miller’s own days when he went berserk with constipated ambition in the Monterey Bay, and the Burns volume came my way via the Scottish shop in Carmel-on-the beach.
To be continued…
Graydon is the Wizard of Fiction.