Her Brazen Tower

June 26, 2011

The Summer looks out from her brazen tower
Through the flashing bars of July.
     — Francis Thompson, 1859-1907
          English poet

He posted the picture on Facebook in January — a green couch beside a simple table desk under tall windows looking onto a cityscape, and to the right a bookcase and an electric guitar propped on a stand in the corner. “Anybody want to rent my apartment for July?” the guitar’s owner asked. A writer enrolled in an MFA program in New York City, he had an opportunity to drive cross-country with a buddy, live in California wine country for a month, and work on his novel.

I met him last summer at Sewanee. He sat down beside me at dinner the first evening. “I like your earrings,” he said of the orange M&Ms I was wearing. We discovered we were born the same day, 36 years apart. We were in the same workshop. We had differeing styles and differing concerns in our work, but we understood each other and gave each other helpful feedback. At the end of Sewanee he wished me well with Bread Loaf and beyond, and I told him to keep in touch about his MFA progress. We became Facebook friends. 

The day the picture was posted, I was working on the story that would become my Bread Loaf application manuscript. I had already decided not to apply to Sewanee this year. The dates had been moved to slightly later, affording only about 48 hours to get from Tennessee to Vermont to start Bread Loaf. And while I valued my time at Sewanee, especially the social aspects, the benefit to my writing life was not that much different from what I derive from Bread Loaf. July in New York, however, would offer an experience I had never had before, in a setting that might never be made available to me again.

I sent him a note. “How much?”.

The answer to “How much?” was, around what it would cost to go to Sewanee again. I made a decision. I sent him a deposit. I visited in May, when I attended a reading in Brooklyn by a Bread Loaf friend whose debut novel had just been published. It’s an “alcove studio,” 400 square feet, the bed separated from the refrigerator by an open book case.

chrysler1“Come any time after June 23,” he said. I took the train out of Harrisburg this morning, toting a coffeemaker because my friend is a tea drinker, a few touches of home, and, as usual, more books and materials than I will probably use. By 3:30 I was enjoying a brunch (in New York, that’s a Sunday meal served from about 11:00 until about 4:00) at a small restaurant on First Avenue. A horde of motorcyclists roared past, hundreds of them, doing wheelies and whooping. I bought some groceries at the little market on the corner. The women who work there wear the hijab, and some of the items are in packages printed in Hebrew or Arabic, some in Roman letters but in a language full of diactical marks I cannot identify.

My alcove studio is in the 90s on the Upper East Side, on the 18th floor, looking south toward midtown. I can just see the crown of the Chrysler building in the distance, and tonight I watched the lights grow brighter as dusk deepened. From my brazen tower it appeared as a beacon, drawing my gaze outward an upward. And onward.


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