I was selected as James Merrill House Writer-In-Residence for 6 months
one year. This meant you would go to Stonington, Connecticut, and live
on Water Street, in the house of renowned poet James Merrill, that
imperially slim aesthete, scion of the financial family, known to his
friends as "Jimmy". When he died in 1995, he left his house and
everything in it to a foundation which opted to leave it intact and
untouched and establish a writer-in-residence program.
I moved in. My awe was intense. The views from the attic room were vast
and lovely. Just to be in the house this man lived in, entertained in,
I guess the trouble started when I began hearing the voices.
Me and this blowzy blonde who I picked up at the juke joint down the
street were stumbling through the place. I'd already explained it all
to her, in a seven-boilermaker story. In passing I gazed at my cold
laptop, and her glance fell on the Ouija board. "Let's call him up!"
I got a teacup from the breakfront and we sat down at the table. All
four hands on the cup. Result: random letters. "Maybe the reception's
bad on this cup," I said. "Let's try another." It didn't work either.
"This cup sucks!" laughed the blonde, hurling it to burst against the
wall. We found this funny, and soon the entire set was in pieces on the
floor. I could see in her eyes she was ready for more mayhem, so I
headed her off with sex. In the morning she was gone and so was my
I sat on the edge of the bed with my head in my hands.
"Good one," Jimmy said.
I looked around wildly. Nobody there.
"I appreciate you busting my china," he said. It sounded like he was
right at my shoulder.
"No, no, I'm serious. I'm in a position now to appreciate the
destruction of a bunch of old clay. They were only props for over-
reverent handling and awe. Something I never would've approved of, in
"Oh, c'mon. Seriously?"
Jimmy'd never imagined the house would be used for a writer-in-
residence program. He often tried to contact the poets who'd stayed in
it, but he couldn't force his way through the colored haze of their own
egos, the iron shields of their sense of poetic entitlement for having
been selected to the hallowed post of squatter-in-residence. Or worse,
he would contact them and, feeling possessed by the hallowed ghost of
Jimmy, they would create reams of awful faux-Sandover type shit and
attribute it mentally or otherwise to his influence. "You've seen my
work," he said. "Imagine those fragile lines in ham hands. My poems
were designs of exquisite control. Bibelots. China cups. Imagine the
plan for a fine porcelain, executed by some lazy, slapdash potter. What
good does it do? I stopped trying." He grew to resent the heads who lay
down to sleep where his head used to lay. He avoided the house
altogether, but was still tied to it, connected by a nagging feeling
there was work remaining to be done.
We had friendly conversations throughout the days and weeks. He helped
me find my computer: I bought it back from the fence for cheap. I never
saw the blonde again -- he told me to let it go. Poor creature, she'd
We took long walks together through the countryside and along the
seashore. Sometimes he was cheeky -- I'm sure he was watching when I
masturbated. But I didn't see the harm in giving an old gay ghost a
He was a pleasant and friendly man. Sometimes a little delicate and
over-cultured, but with a distinctive personality and an innate sense
of order that was comforting to be around. I wished I'd known him in
When it was time to leave, I couldn't very well refuse his last
request. He showed me where to find the kerosene and schooled me one
afternoon in arson. It went surprisingly quick. You'd be amazed how
quickly a big house is fully engulfed. I could still see it from the
edge of town, before the Greyhound passed over an intervening ridge.
And then I could still see the pale smoke twisting into the paler blue
sky, but soon it was just one of a series of clouds.
I feel pretty good about myself now, even though a lot of people are
angry and the charges are still pending.