Monday, June 15, 2009

for Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy

at the thrift store today
a new old typewriter
ancient Underwood portable
saw it a few days ago
still there still unsold
bought it brought it home
cleaned it up ribbon
still works some of the keys
stick the X key sticks
watched a documentary
about Christopher Isherwood
and Don Bachardy lovers
thirty years age difference
didn't matter didn't ever matter
why would it why should it
if it's love it doesn't matter
older younger mentor student
father son mistaken by some to be
what mattered was the words and images
the old writer and the young artist
the artist stopped drawing anyone else
for the last six months of the writer's dying
then spent all day drawing his corpse
the sunny day after he died
Christopher eyes closed jaw slack
skin folded in wasted away not much hair
everything gone pale and faded
pose in repose drawn again and again
while the artist kept looking
and seeing seeing clearly even if eyes clouded
the last look of the body of the writer
in pose and repose looking exactly

the same my father did in the hour after he too died
two years ago today

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Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

In a post I've just completed I talk about how I was brought up to believe that homosexuality was wrong; I use the expression 'hammering into me' because a) it was one of my father's expressions and b) he was the one who did the hammering. I've had little contact with gays in my life in fact my correspondence with you and Colin McGuire is about it. I don't hold my father's views but that doesn't mean he didn't do a good job; they are an indelible mark on me that I constantly have to override.

I can understand an expression like "if it's love it doesn't matter" because I understand love even if I don't understand the sexual component to the relationship. I get what Bachardy was doing drawing Isherwood like that (I assume he knew he was dying) especially the day he died.

I never saw my father's corpse. He had been shipped off to the hospital and I chose not to go to the undertakers to view the body. Again, it's hard to shake off one's upbringing. I felt no sentimental attachment to his body.

There are a lot of things like that in this life that I struggle to fully comprehend.

5:54 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

I appreciate the thoughts, Jim, thanks.

I was there when Dad died, or rather in the next room; like many people, he chose to wait till everyone left the room, to go. He was home from the hospital for the past week, in Hospice care, since we all knew it was the end, and he wouldn't recover from his last bout. Or if he did, he would need the care. We sat with him for awhile, while the Hospice people did everything necessary, including calling the funeral home people.

It was actually good to "say goodbye" that way. We did the same with my Mom, more or less. I think we disconnect and sanitize death too much, make it too remote; but then we live in culture that fears death and exalts youthfulness. (I read Jessica Mitford's "The American Way of Death" the first time in my teens, and I have to say, she was right on target in every way.)

If it's shown in your region, the documentary is called "Chris and Don: A love story." It's well worth watching, both because the love is obviously there, but because there's a lot of good history in it, too. Some wonderful archival film and photos are used throughout.

About not knowing any gays: Actually, if the conventional wisdom is true, and I do believe it is, that about one in ten men are gay, then you (and everybody else) has met a lot more gay men than they are aware they have. :) I don't want to get into it here and now, yet even if ten percent is too high a figure (there's some medical research that indicates it might be low), if it's only five percent, everybody's still met more gay people than they realize. Especially in the creative and healthcare professions.

What made Chris and Don remarkable was their openness as a couple. That is also discussed in the documentary, BTW. And it was unusual for its time, it's true.

8:17 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

I forgot to add that they knew Isherwood was dying for about 4 years before he did. That was time to make some farewells, and the last intense period, of several months, was when Don made all those last drawings.

With my Dad we knew for over a year, and there too there was some time to get ready, and get used to the idea, and to make some farewells. Of course it's still a shock when it happens, but it's not sudden.

With my Mom, it was quick, and a shock, and rather sudden. We had only a couple of weeks before his last illness and her passing. She was one of those people who is never sick during her life, doesn't like hospitals and doesn't need them; then, suddenly, everything breaks down at once, and they're gone in weeks. That too is a common pattern, I've learned.

8:22 AM  
Blogger Christopher Hennessy said...

Just wanted to show some love for all the great recent posts!

9:02 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

Christopher, that's very cool!

Thanks! :)

10:22 AM  

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