Afternoons and evenings found Ramirez working in the Biltmore Men's Bar, a large mahogany-paneled room, with tulip-shaped fixtures, high gloomy windows, and many a dimly lit corner. That important people came and went was indisputable, along the bar mirror rim and along the walls were various signed photographs: Joe Dimaggio's, Douglas MacArthur's, Milton Berle's, Cesar Romero's, and Ronald Coleman's, to name a few that Ives wold remember. There were others, but most of the autographs were carefully, if inexpensively, framed. Some were just signatures, scribbled out on napkins or beer coasters. Some with messages: "Para Lius, con amistad, Ernest Hemingway," on a bar menu.
Famous people make cameo appearances in Ives' story. Besides the ones mentioned above, Shelley Winters appears later. Walt Disney shows up in the beginning pages. And the ghost of Charles Dickens haunts the whole book. They are not even secondary characters. They appear, are mentioned in passing, and then fade into the background of Ives' grief.
I have had encounters with many famous people in my life. Vincent Price. Alec Baldwin. Victor Borge. Sharon Olds. N. Scott Momaday. John Cleese. Like Ives, I can't say I had close relationships with any of these celebrities. I spent a week in a poetry workshop with Olds, my longest brush with fame. I had lunch with John Cleese. Sort of. I was eating lunch. He was eating lunch at another table with his wife. That counts, in my book. I've got a picture with Baldwin outside the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.
All my life, I've wanted to be a famous writer. When most kids my age dreamed of being in the NFL or on Happy Days, I dreamed of publishing contracts and book tours. People lined up in book stores for my autograph. That was my fantasy. I know that marks me as a little strange. But, I've always embraced strangeness.
I am not a famous person. If I were, my poetry workshop next Tuesday would have been filled to capacity instead of being canceled due to poor enrollment. And I would probably have a full-time teaching job at the university instead of being a contingent instructor. Fame certainly has its benefits.
However, I, for the most part, have a pretty good life. Good friends. Great kids. Beautiful wife. Maybe some day I will write a book that brings pilgrims to my front door, begging for wisdom or a selfie with me. If that ever happens, I will certainly have to move or buy an electrified security fence and trained attack Doberman. Forgive me. I have lapsed into fantasy again.
Judith Minty is a celebrity. In Michigan, anyway. In the Upper Peninsula. On the Yellow Dog.
Saint Marty is a celebrity. In his house. In his living room. On his couch.
All winter, my poems
were thin and icy, my head
filled with other people's words.
Those dark months, I lived
in the corners of failure.
Now, here by the river,
the hermit thrush opens his throat,
lines flow over the page, the afternoon sun
warms shoulders, my back
in its slow circle.
Those mice were too bold.
They ran right up to my chair,
across the sink. They peered at me
from around pint cans on the shelf.
Last night, I set the traps,
then dreamed I skinned a fox
for the Cherokee woman downstate.
Today I unlock two frozen bodies, look away
from their surprised eyes, try to recall
that woman half-crazed by moonbeams.
This good French bread
from the Negaunee bakery
has lasted almost a week.
I tear off a piece, then lather it
with butter. I remember
she apologized it wasn't a long loaf.
No doubt, hearing my downstate accent,
she thought I meant to cut it with a knife.
How could she know my tongue
arched to thank her in the northland gutteral,
that I would kiss the bread before I ate it.
Confessions of Saint Marty