When I was eighteen and living away from home, I developed a peculiar form of calligraphy. It consisted of graceful curving strokes that began low on the left and ended high on the right, and which made the shorter letters look as if they were being protected by the taller ones. The cross on the capital letter T, for instance, began well below the base line on the left, and provided shelter to the letters that followed.
While an entire page of this script would have been difficult to read, the style was suited to a beginner’s verse. When bad poetic weather blew across the page — this happened even more often then than it does now — the eager o’s were far less likely to get a’s in their i’s, and the three-legged m’s still managed to keep their feet dry. This meant a lot to me. The fact is, it meant far too much, but in those days I wasn’t quite ready to face myself in cold stark type.
Even so, I knew I had a wealth of material at my disposal. I had already beheld my fellow human beings in their competitive rottenness and heartbroken despair, had seen their lonely lights flickering late at night through undraped windows, and been inspired by their spontaneous acts of beauty, love, and grace.
I moved through this world like a haunted form, drunk with observation, astonished by these spiritual creatures struggling everywhere around me, arguing, laughing, playing, kissing, sighing, protesting, mourning, deceiving, courting, and always trying their best to explain that which was, by its profound nature, unexplainable.
It was a beautiful, lonely time, a happy time full of wonder tempered by sadness and loss — just as it is today, with its painted autumn leaves and children playing in front of droopy little houses, its disorderly fields of abandoned hopes and dreams, its wars, and its grotesque sanity for sale on every corner. The flower of Sixties unrest was still a joy to behold, but it had begun to fade. Here and there, resignation and cynicism sprouted in the gutter.
As far as I am aware, no sample of my old calligraphy has survived. A short while ago, I tried to recreate it and failed. I was not surprised, or even disappointed. I am no longer eighteen. My blissful, lustful ignorance has given way to a kind of wisdom that very much resembles hardheaded stupidity. I would rather type anyway.
I do remember once tacking one of my handwritten poems on the wall above my desk. I have long since forgotten the words, but I know what they must have said:
Pleased to meet you,
I love you, whoever you are.
[From Songs and Letters, originally published September 29, 2005]