Philadelphia , 13th March

My dear Meghan,

As you say, it is unfortunate that we met at the Northstar the very week that you move away from town and from the Northeast, but let us try to keep up an exchange of letters for the next few months and we shall see what may come of that, another meeting face-to-face I would hope, either here or in the West wherever you settle down. Among the various other reasons we could mention for the misfortune of your leaving, is today’s hullabaloo at the Penn. university museum. Starting at noon there is a programme of lectures, exhibition guides, claymaking and cuneiform classes et cetera to fête the return to the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, after several months touring other museums nationwide, of their incomparable collections from the Royal Tombs of Ur, gold, jewels and grave goods from ancient Mesopotamia. I would have loved to wander the Museum halls with you, I’m the kind of man who believes that archaeology makes for a good first date.

Maybe we could take as our watchword, “the return of treasures after several months touring the States”? In the meantime I might drown my sorrows in beer, also thanks to the University Museum which each year hosts the renowned British beer historian and connoisseur Michael Jackson, a tubby bearded curly-haired gentleman of Polish-Jewish background who looks as unlike the more (in)famous M.J. as one could easily imagine. Our Michael Jackson first got involved with Penn when a team of university archaeologists excavating in Crete found a bronze vessel still containing organic sediment; analysing it, they found barley, yeast and white grape must, and they then turned to the beer supremo for advice on how the brew could be recreated.

The Museum now sells the results as Minoan Ale, & Jackson enjoyed so much working with them, that he comes to campus each year to give a lecture and host a dinner extolling the virtues of beer and its long history. All of which is a rather roundabout way to draw your attention to my notepaper, a history of the local brewery in my corner of England. I thought that the photographs would please your antiquarian side; the brewery building itself is known popularly and jocularly in town as “Lewes Cathedral.” Note that from May through August this summer as every summer, I tend to skip Philly once the weather turns hot each year, and go to research or travel in Europe. This year I do so reluctantly, almost, since my department is working together with the German Society of Pennsylvania to create academic publicity and a higher profile for their library, which is a desperately underused and under-funded collection. It was founded as a popular library for local German settlers and citizens in the early nineteenth century and is a treasurehouse of the sort of old pop. lit. and pulp fiction that more “serious” libraries did not collect, but some other grad student will have the joy of writing this up as a summer job.

I shall travel, and so shall you, and the likelihood is that we will not meet for at least half a year now, thus we should take that time to reveal something of ourselves, to one another by letter. You now know that I am a beer-drinking archaeology dweeb with a thing about potboilers (especially Gothic novels and Horrid Mysteries). What of yourself?

What takes you to Wisconsin? What had you been doing in Bucks County, and for how long now? with whom do you travel? w. Rayna?

What is your new address?

--once I know the answer to that last one, I’ll post this letter.

Here’s an objet trouvé, a concrete poem if you like, the state of play at the end of a game of Scrabble which I played against a dorm. resident this afternoon. Reading down the board, left to right: --

In the part of Amsterdam
she walks to feed gin
and her voice is locked in by the nubs of her breasts
that won’t sag and won’t rest

She quips with the sailors
of the port of amsterdam
as they unload the crates
of oranges and grapes
that she’ll peel their rind so
that they’ll never let her go.

And she fixes her eyes,
beams grown men can’t resist
on her knees in the dark
and she opens her lips
I also enclose a found poem which I found at Writers House on campus, to continue our Irish theme. Saturday, eleven o’ the morning, and I am now sat in the Plough and the Stars here in downtown Philly, waiting for my Irish breakfast (black pudding, potato cakes, bacon and mushrooms, all the good stuff) to come along and also waiting for my turn in line to have my head shaved and thus raise money for the National Childhood Cancer Research fund. I’m hoping that the undergrads that I teach and those that live in my dorm will forthcome with the money, but however much or little they give, my hair will also be donated for wigmaking to Locks of Love.

Once I have figured out where my webspace is, I shall post pictures of self before and after this haircut. Would it be very impertinent to ask whether you have any pictures online, or whether you could send me a photograph? Otherwise our brief meeting in a dark bar late at night, might not be enough to help me remember you, in case we meet again.

They are currently calling head #14 to be shaven, I am at #34, this may be a long wait. A little boy has just given me a sticker gold ribbon to sport on my sweater, I feel almost as though I had been visited by a Leprechaun. When I am done with breakfast I shall light my briar pipe and, maybe, take a drop o’the good stuff; if it’s as good as their soda bread I know I shall not regret it. There’s also a powerful choice of whiskeys, I see, but it may be to early for the hard stuff. Now calling twenty-three...thirty! In my pipe is the gold blend by Peterson’s of Dublin, likely my favourite tobacco men though I’d not tried this blend before. Thirty-one---here I go. Later: back home in the dorm, I am gathering dribs and drabs of cash from the students as they meet me in the corridors.

The Lady who shaved me was a little doubtful that the hair is long enough for wigmaking, which would be ten inches from end to end – methinks that it was, but the tendency to curl into romantic ringlets made it look less. Anyway, for that reason or whatever, she took it mostly for donation yet gave me the first hank which came off, I now send it to you because frankly I wouldn’t know what to do with it, nor do you I daresay but at least it’s off my hands, or off my shoulders, or whatnot. By strange circumstance the afternoon opera playing on the radiogram right now is Don Giovanni, but please don’t assume that I’m trying to romance you by sending locks of my hair – it’s just more than my needs at the moment. The hair, that is, not the romance.

If you have been following my online journal at Yog-Sothoth you will know that I have a girlfriend Mária, she lives in Romania and we only get to spend time together twice a year so far. She sometimes becomes jealous and even a little domineering when we are apart, and it is quite frustrating for both of us as you might imagine, but we have made it work so far. I write this partly to explain that appearances may have been just a little deceptive on Wednesday, I know that a man who goes alone to a bar and bribes pretty girls into conversation with Turkish cigarettes can ordinarily be assumed to be on the prowl, but if you need to know why I was there on my own you can find out that as well at; you may also remember my mentioning, when talk turned to beef burgers, that years ago I had a mid-length relationship with a boyfriend who was a hepatitis carrier, tho’ happily I came through that without picking up the illness. My love life can be sometimes complicated, I find that sleeping with only one person at any time makes it easier to stick to sleeping with only one gender at a time.

If circumstances (and geography) were a little different I would love to tap your sweet Irish ass, but things being as they are I shall restrict myself to asking whether you are happy and lucky in love right now, whether you prefer one gender over the other and whether you came through hepatitis more or less unscathed, so that I may have a clearer idea of who you are to whom I write. Whatever your answers, I have just realised that writing this letter (and listening to Mozart) has so engrossed me that I’ve entirely missed today’s Museum events: time now to hurry to the university library before that shuts its doors as well. -- Just back, with another six bucks donation from friends to write into my Book of Life. Quarter-past five on the Saturday before Patrick’s and the campus bars already are giving forth their crowds of green-liveried revellers. Ptchah.

Sunday 14 th March

Running total of donation so far: $75, and that’s just from people trickling back into the dorm. There’ll be a lot more next week when we start teaching classes again, from my karate and Shakespeare groups, from library staff and fellow-teachers... Mária says that the whole thing is rather childish and that I am seeking attention, but if I can raise hundreds of dollars for cancer research by being an exhibitionist, then I’m quite ready to do so. I know that it is just M’s jealousy speaking, she does not like the idea of me lecturing in a room full with dozens of impressionable teenagers. Do you remember the scenes at the beginning of Indiana Jones, beleaguered by students who are, well, Jonesing for him: I’m happy to say that I have no problems of that sort, but the scenes add an extra chuckle to the movies. Are you a fan? I hadn’t ever seen them one after another until now, and it’s a delight to watch how the production values and period detail get better and better. Lovely 1930s tailoring! That’s another reason why I’m such a fan of the Dresden Dolls, as well as their music they have a grand sense of clothing and style that’s hard to put a thumb upon historically but definitely has the air of between the wars. Hard not to fall in love with a man who sits behind the drumkit wearing a bowler hat – at their first that I attended, the gig downtown at Doc Watson’s in Feburary, he wound up wearing the hat and not much else. Mmm.

Mid-March of course is still a little chill in Philly, I keep my bald head warm with a wool cap, charcoal grey, by Tonák of the Czech republic: not quite Borsalino but rather stylish nevertheless. Should it turn back any colder, I shall bring out the Latvian fur hat (not Russian; the Letts do not like to be mistaken for Russians, they say of their national drink, “Balsams is very strong, you must dilute it with vodka”) and the Edwardian evening cloak from my father’s stock-in-trade, which has become rather well known around campus and is, warmth for weight, the most practicable easily packable winter garment one could imagine for taking back and forth across the Atlantic in one’s luggage.

I hope that packing up wardrobe, books, belongings and baggage for the move to Wisconsin was not too traumatic. By strange chance, Mária is also moving house this month, although this is merely from one part of Bucharest to another. Yesterday I bought a large (4 yards by 2 ½) cotton Union Jack bedspread for her new place, I shall parcel that up and take it to the post office on Tuesday morning, by which time I hope to have heard back from you so that I can throw this in the mail as well.

Love and kisses, in a limited sort,

Samuel Willcocks

“He wishes for the cloths of Heaven”
Had I the Heavens’ embroidered cloths,
the blue and the green and the dark cloths
of the dark and the light and the half-light
I would spread them out under your feet:
but being poor, I have only my dreams
and a large bedspread I’m sending to my love.

memory, after Yeats, with additions.