“Mais ou sont les neiges d’antan?” —Francois Villon
In memory of Fletcher and Inga Pratt
The skyline is foretelling, with its usual mystic fistula,
what’s to come,
as we ring the Pratt’s bell, and climb the stairs
to that lavish disheveled, vast frigate
forever casting off and around Columbus Circle
to dock at Central Park.
The tumbled decks thrive with Dictaphones,
marmosets, models of battleships, blinking girls,
life disguising itself with gossamer, lying, and illusions of ecstasy.
It’s only a ramshackle dream, but he’s paid
a weary admission to things that sneer and grasp and slam
that hurt awfully because they’re gone.
Back come back, he beseeches the shimmering past!
Once for an hour or two, he’d such companions—
David Garrick spying through the keyhole
on Doctor Johnson’s honeymoon with Tetty,
Sheridan eloping with Lizzy Lindsey out of the house
where Emma Hamilton shucked the beds as upstairs maid,
where Evelyn got his oranges off Nell Gwynne,
and Peter the Great is renting a garden, learning to sail
down the Thames flats, waving at Pepys and his brass spyglass.
Here we read all day long
the entries in each other’s eyes,
rustling the springs of a hundred trunks,
uncle, toad, bawd of the Prince of Wales,
toy, wink, devil and bad mistake.
Our illusions are practicing how to live,
and somehow happiest now
misted in the shifting clouds of a scribbler’s dream.
But infant and quonmdam prince, he must learn to be thankful
for any opening door,
content with making do, grasping for an instant the precious
that shines and vanishes. A risk the proud man
stays forever shackled to.
Dante explained it was like fire.
You crouch with impossibilities, the ugly and hateful,
the earnest, the humorless, the bilious, forever,
until that day you enter upon the dreadful dark,
around the knees of some vile maggoty mountain
and surprise! Enter on what you‘ve become,
a sort of dancing floor, beneath the riot of stars.
© Andrew Glaze, 2015, from Overheard In A Drugstore.
Fletcher Pratt was a beloved and eccentric pioneer in the field of science fiction novels and his wife Inga was a successful designer and illustrator. My father came to know them during his visits to the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference in 1948 and 1953. In reality their home was not on Columbus Circle in Manhattan, but at the New Jersey shore in a huge mansion they dubbed “The Ipsy Wipsy Institute”. It was legendary for the constant flow of guest writers, celebrities, regular meetings of burgeoning science fiction writers that Pratt encouraged, and Pratts predilection towards pretending he was the host of a grand British manor house in the style of the English gentry.
If you’d like to read more, you can look at the Wikipedia page on Fletcher Pratt. His wife, Inga Pratt, also has a Wikipedia page devoted to her.
Fletcher Pratt at Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference, 1948.
Photo by Andrew Glaze, property of The Andrew Glaze Estate.
— E. Glaze