Death's Dream Kingdom


Watches *It's snowing outside. The tree outside my office window is catching snow, and in some similar way I'm to put down on paper what James Dickey meant to me.

He wore two watches. Set to the same time. I was the only one who would ask him why. He said time was important.

One time, a week after I'd seen him bring a house full of Charleston aristocrats and debutantes to their feet in the middle of his reading, and in the middle of poems, and in the middle of lines, he led a standing ovation for me as I walked into class. My first short story had been accepted for publication.

Another time he dragged me off the elevator to tell me "The snake in the air has crossed the bridge." He was telling me, rather prematurely, how my story "The Bridge" was to win some award. ("Snake in the Air" was a poem I was working on in one of his classes.)

One Thanksgiving at his house we spent our time talking about Leadbelly. A few days later I found him waiting at my office to show me a Leadbelly lick on my guitar. In three-quarter time.

Last Christmas I could see "death dream's kingdom" all about him, among his pillars of books and scattered guitars, though Brad Pitt had just called with the regular tease from Hollywood. Dickey insisted on giving Christina a brochure from the play of his poem "My Day Sermon." He signed it across the cross of Christ. We spent a long time there. The last thing he said to me, holding my hand, was "My old friend."

One time I told him as he passed my door that "This hall ain't big enough for both of us." He never broke stride. "Too bad about you," he said.

Yep. The world never felt bigger than when I got the call. Like we, the people, had lost a certain register to our collected voice. And time had somehow spread thin its thickness and covered me big.

And so I went and bought a good watch.

Vincent Craig Wright taught in the English Department at the University of South Carolina, where James Dickey served as poet-in-residence. Wright was POINT's fiction editor before he left the state for a teaching job in Oregon.

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