Friday, January 29, 2010

Fiction - A letter to Poe, written on his birthday

To Mr. Poe's corpse,

My name is Toombs, and I have most urgent business with you. I do apologize, however, for the frankness of my salutation. Years of formal schooling have done me well, but not well enough to know the proper greeting for the deceased. My only hope is that you will sympathize, seeing as you were a frightfully awkward man in life and would thus understand my hesitance.

I also want to clear up one small matter before I get down to business. You, that is to say the man who tends your gravesite, might be bothered by this letter's return address. Let me assure you that the Avery Blake Institute for the Hopelessly Insane is a wonderful institution, recommended in all of the finest medical and scientific journals, and that this letter is a therapeutic exercise first and foremost. A doctor's note has been included in the envelope to allay any suspicions you may have.

Right. Now I have been wondering for some time why, on your birthday, a stranger leaves you roses and toasts you with cognac. Your biography is quite clear, after all, about your struggles with alcoholism and depression. Being that you lived it, I'm sure you understand those episodes in ways more graphic and delicate and human than I ever could. So why cognac, then? Has your legacy as a drunk elevated you to that of a cult figure, admired by those who wish to shun society, or numb themselves to it? If so, why they feel it necessary to enable your legendary intemperance in the bargain? I thought you might have some answers.

I first thought it to be some kind of ironic, post-modern joke. The biography I alluded to before was a gross exaggeration in many respects, written as it was by someone who hated you. Your admirers must know this, I thought, and are therefore saluting the biographer's extremity regarding the ebb and flow of your life. By no means an elegant tradition, but it does you justice as a man wronged by history and doomed to have his work overshadowed by fictional accounts of himself. Such a thing would lend your name value.

But that isn't it. These same people, these admirers, revel in tales of your numerous - and largely unproven - falls from grace. They take pleasure in the gin-pickled cartoon your name has become, as if you were some swaggering outlaw forever sticking it to the blue-noses. Which you were to a point; the Northern literary establishment wanted nothing to do with you, so you helped create the Southern literary establishment, which has turned out much better work on the whole. But these admirers don't care about that. Their focus is on the grim nights in between, in which you dash between shadows, giggling from laudanum euphoria and marrying underage cousins as it suited you. They believe the worst about you, Mr. Poe, and their praise is mockery. They bring you liquor because they want that memory of you to endure, because it entertains them and stokes their own timidly sociopathic fantasies.

They are laughing at you.
You, an early supporter of astronomical theories that led to the discovery of relativity. You, who wrote a novel that doesn't read like desk assembly instructions when compared to modern fiction. You, who wrote more short stories than there are carcinogens in the Chesapeake Bay. Which there was a downside to, in all honesty. That story about pulling out the girl's teeth was dreadful - the ending was so telegraphed that it might as well have sent me one letting me know that it was coming. On the other end of the spectrum was the detective story where an orangutan was the culprit. Making sense of that is like trying to reduce a sodomy charge to tailgating, and I only use such a foul expression because something very similar to it landed me here.

But I digress. You deserve better, sir, as does your standing in the annals of literature. Without you, American literature wouldn't exist. We'd still be writing about British lodging houses and bowling leprechauns, like Washington Irving did. Please accept this letter as both a gesture of support and a public call for modesty when celebrating your birthday. And, when you inevitably rise from the dead to avenge these strikes against your character, please consider this letter when the time comes for you to decide whether or not to eat my brain.

Faithfully, and with all metabolic and respiratory faculties,
A. Toombs

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