Queen Mab Song

Mother was dying. Asked my sister courteously
(what other way can you think?) – troubled, as one
who’d forgotten a little something—
“Martha, could you tell me who my husband was?”
Then she heard the news. Her gentle cheeks trembled
with a gust of fear – or amazement, out of years past.
–“Not one of those terrible Glazes from Elkton!”

Her people were (and are to this day)
a pleasant, loving, ceremonious folk
who number cousins down through the generations,
build their houses slowly, one next to another,
as children run in and out like spinning bobbins,
weaving the cloth of coming and going and having gone.

My father’s clan were a mad cannibalistic lot.
His father, a run-away, spent the civil war
in the saddle, cutting and bandaging Forrest’s men,
hadn’t spoken to his father or hated step-mother
in years – later, didn’t speak to his second wife–
all the time they were raising a clever brood of five.

Descended from such a union, it’s not prodigy
that I crawl like a baffled planet across an eerie sky.
Driven first by bitter attachment to blood,
nothing at all to do with either sense or the time,
whether my people care for my cares or what I do,
and also, without a break in the music, lives out of step
wildly alone, balks at their company
or being away from it, either remembered or alone.

Yet I’ve had luck. That I could not destroy myself as my father did,
and had one talisman to clutch, and lonely craft
woven out of her music, his passion for words–
her calm plenitude, his untamed wildness,
which by its spell delivers me across ditches,
flares in darkness. By its strange gift to shuttle
madness and wrong, it weaves fire and water
into a strong cloth spun out of one house
winding into another, up against sky, down into earth,
strapping filth and nakedness into song.

© Andrew Glaze Estate, 2018, previously unpublished.

 

The story at the beginning of the poem is completely genuine, and has become legendary among the members of the Glaze family.

My Grandmother, Mildred Ezell Glaze, died just short of turning 94 years old, in 1981. The average age of death in her family was always over 90. Her one downfall was osteoporosis which landed her in the hospital, with a broken hip – twice.  I remember that both times her doctors predicted she’d leave us soon from congestive heart failure after becoming bedridden, only to eat their words — twice. It was only after she tried to open a window and her back collapsed that she really did begin to slide downhill, at which point her memory decided to join in for the ride. 

She had always been a petit but firm matriarchal figure. Her white hair behaved itself in a tidy French twist during the day, but cascaded down her back when she brushed it at night.  She was from Pulaski Tennessee, outside of Nashville. It was a metropolis compared to Elkton just down the road. 

As a teen, during a visit to Birmingham with my father, I went along to a dinner party one of her friends was hosting. Afterwards, Mamma sat in a chat circle with her friends and I realized that every one of them had blue eyes and a pearl necklace.  

My father liked to repeat a story she’d told him about a similar gathering many years earlier. It was spring, and one of her friends had invited the rest of them to her home at the height of strawberry season. They all dressed in their best and sat around her oval dining table, chatting and eating as they dipped their strawberries into a large platter of white powdered sugar at the center of the table.

It was during this idyllic scene of privileged indulgence that the hostess’s pet parrot suddenly got the notion to fly into the room in search of his mistress and aimed for a landing spot. He selected the dining table. It was only as he began his descent that he noticed the platter of powdered sugar below him and changed his mind. Pumping his wings furiously to regain height, a giant mushroom cloud of powdered sugar arose all around him and female guests ran in every direction. When the dust settled everyone was coated in white.

“Mamma”, as I called her (for Grandma), had 5 sisters and 2 brothers. They grew up living near their cousins and did indeed spend the day running between houses. She had a wonderfully happy childhood. For their entire lives the 5 girls went by the names their youngest sister Mary gave them as a baby. Martha was “Arter”, Marjorie was “Argie”, Mildred was “Mimmi”, and Sarah was “Tarai”. 

My mother once told me that Mamma, who was her mother-in-law at the time, had confided, “Andy’s so proud that he resembles his father that I never had the heart to tell him that he looks just like my own father. I married a man who looked like my father.”

The reality was that he also inherited many of the personality traits and interests of her father. His own father wanted a son to play catch with, and took him to shoot guns at the driving range, but he was more interested in watching baseball, reading, and listening to classical music. According to my father, his younger sister was the apple of their dad’s eye. His mother realized this, and later admitted that she made a conscious effort to be my father’s champion to try and balance things out.  It helped, but not completely. He always struggled under the feeling that he never quite lived up to his father’s expectations, and since my grandfather died when my father was 25 and overseas in the army, he was left to try and wrestle it out through his poems.

Ironically, when my brother became a teenager he spent most of his free time playing softball in Central Park, dreamt of going to the pros, and once lamented to me that our father was never the type to take him out and throw a ball around with him. Clearly, it skipped a generation. As for myself, my father cultivated a large number of common interests in me, which is how I ended up excitedly attending my first opera with him when I was all of four years old, and attending Gilbert & Sullivan productions with him as a tween. At age 8 I loved nothing more than to watch the “Play of the Week” on television with my parents. On the other hand, my brother inherited our father’s gentle and shy personality, enormous loyalty to the women in his life, quick witted sense of humor, and the ability to generate nonstop groan worthy puns. The talent for puns was an ability that my father also shared with his former father-in-law, W.Y. Elliott, and even, to my great dismay, with my husband. As puns have never been my favorite form of humor, I have spent my life cringing my way through many family dinners.

My father spoke several times to me about the fact that his mother read “Water Babies” to him as a child and he remembered it as a beautiful tale. So much so that he picked it up years later to reread, only to discover that it contained a large amount of religious content that he had no memory of. So he asked his mother about it and she replied, “Oh, I left all that stuff out when I read it to you”. He was impressed by her ability to edit on the fly. He carried on the family tradition of reading books to the younger generation at bedtime. By the time I left to study in England shortly before turning 19, he’d carried on reading to me through high school until we finished the entire Hobbit and Lord of the Rings series. I did the same with my daughter and she was in high school by the time we finished the 7th book of the Harry Potter series.  My brother not only read to his children but shared our father’s interest in reading P.G. Wodehouse books aloud to his wife in the evening.

After the divorce, which was initiated by my mother, I remember visiting Mamma’s apartment the following summer and noticing that she’d carefully cut my mother out of a framed group photo. According to my uncle, she also massacred the entire photo album. There was no mistaking it; she was pissed off.  Despite his great emotional pain, our father never said a word to us against our mother. His loyalty remained unshaken, and he remained friends with our mother’s parents.  Mamma also remained congenial to them after the divorce and told me she’d visited the local funeral parlor to sign the condolence book when our maternal grandmother died. It was a lovely gesture that had required effort. She had no way to get there other than to call a taxi.

Mamma had travelled to some extent when she was younger, and she visited us in New York City on several occasions as she grew older. These trips gave me the opportunity to observe a skill that my father and my uncle had discussed with bemused amazement for many years.  Mamma had the ability to strike up a conversation with a total stranger in any city, and immediately find some direct connection they had to Pulaski Tennessee. It happened repeatedly. In Mamma’s world, all roads led to Pulaski.

Before she died I asked her to leave me a statuette that I’d always admired sitting on her living room shelf. My father was thrilled that she fulfilled my request, because he loved it too.  The statuette had a story to accompany it.  She said that my grandfather had stopped off to visit a friend who had an art gallery, and fell in love with the statuette. So he bought it. He bought it even though it was during WW2 and he had to use all of the food ration stamps they had for the entire month, which he happened to have with him since he had just picked them up.  She said she was ready to kill him at the time, but was glad to have the statuette now.  Personally, I think our grandfather realized that he had other options available to him and that they’d never starve to death. You see, a few years earlier Mamma had presented me with an Elgin watch she had as a spare, explaining that it was one that Dr. Glaze had received as a barter payment from a patient. He was a dermatologist, and I’m going to hazard a guess that his patients often paid him with food and ration stamps as well.

This may sound strange, but my grandmother’s teeth outlived her.  When she eventually landed in a nursing home, every evening a new nurse would ask her for her dentures, and Mamma would reply, “They’re my own”.  And every evening they wouldn’t believe her until they finally read her chart and realized that, at age 93, she did indeed still have all of her own teeth. In addition, her teeth had few, if any, fillings. My father inherited her teeth genetics. He used to come home from dental cleanings and tell us that while he was sitting in the examination chair, the dentist had dragged every single member of his staff into the room exclaiming, “Look at this set of teeth, because you’ll never see another set like them again!!!”  Her Ezell family DNA for teeth is what everyone in our family hopes to inherit. My brother was lucky enough to be on the receiving end.  It might seem like a strange sort of legacy to leave behind, and it’s about as predictable as a winning lottery ticket, but to those in the family who have it, it’s priceless!

Mama Niazuma Ave. 7-1938

Mildred Ezell Glaze, photographed by Andrew Glaze, 1938.
Property of the Andrew Glaze Estate, 2018

— E. Glaze

Bill Where Are You?

For William Gaither 1917—1966

I think of you racketing
around Birmingham astride our purple Henry J,
busted door lashed shut,
and running a bowling alley out
Mountain Brook way.
Still, I’m convinced, once more we’re going
To put up a house on the Southside.
But Schatzi says we’re not.
That it happened again.

The first time, they thought you were drunk.
You spent ten hours
in the city tank, bless your infarcted heart,
and sued the council.

The only carpenter-plumber
I ever heard of who loved ballet,
started life as a dealer of 21
in the loop of Chicago,
acted in plays, studied at school
with the Syndicate’s odds maker,
and every year got four week’s work
as Santa Claus.

I remember we made a practice barre
for Richard and Gage,
and one day Schatzi wrote and said
you wouldn’t come home anymore.

Once you said, to hit the jackpot,
catch a women square upon the cervix.
You caught her,
But she hadn’t caught you anywhere.
You were still most happy thinking
of bumming drunk and free
about the two foot snow
of the blizzard of ’48 in Illinois.

18 months you came every day,
you helped remake my house.
I don’t know why, there wasn’t any money.
Maybe you needed like faith
to be useful at anything.
You kept me from going insane.
That’s all I wanted to say.
Except – sleep well.
I can’t figure out for the life of me
where you’ve gone.

© Andrew Glaze 1978, from The Trash Dragon of Shensi

 

Betsy with Bill Gaither, who worked as Santa every Christmas.jpg
Bill Gaither with Elizabeth Glaze (age 5) at a Birmingham department store.
Photo property of the Andrew Glaze Estate.

englund.lrg
Gage Bush Englund, on the cover of Dance Magazine 1963,
photo by Jack Mitchell.

Yes, we really did have a purple Henry J.  The day my father first drove it home he stood with it on the street, as a surprise, and my mother sent me to look out the window of my 2nd floor bedroom. Up to that point we’d been driving around in a car with rope strung across an opening where a door was missing. Nowadays that would be highly illegal, but this was the ’50’s.

Gage Bush was an heiress who grew up with my father, and overcame some degree of polio as a child to have a successful ballet career and meet her husband dancer Richard Englund. At some point, Bill and my father helped them build a barre for ballet practice. Over the years, Gage and Richard alternated living in Birmingham and New York. When my stepmom Adriana met my father she already knew Richard because they danced together in “Camelot”. When my father and Adriana married, we took over an apartment from Richard and Gage while they returned to Birmingham for a few years. They ended up founding The Birmingham Civic Ballet before returning to New York where they worked with American Ballet Theatre and the Joffrey Ballet.

Bill Gaither was a neighbor who lived around a corner and downhill from our home-in-progress.  According to my father,  Bill drove past our house everyday and had been steadily watching the renovation process.  Then one day he decided to park and walk up hill across our front yard to introduce himself. By the time he left he’d volunteered his services to help, and from that point on he was there almost every day.  He and Schatzi (his wife’s nickname), became great friends with my parents. I remember having dinner at their house. One day during “naptime” I managed to sneak past my mother as she stood with her back to me at the kitchen sink, and went off to visit them. I was fond of them as well.

The final stage of our move to Manhattan was in the summer of 1957.  Bill and my father alternated driving North in the Henry J with a small rental trailer hitched to the back, while I sat/slept in the back seat. My mother, grandmother, and I had already forged a path to Manhattan and found an apartment. I returned to Birmingham with my grandmother while my mother waited in NYC. At the end of our journey, knowing we’d have no need for a car in Manhattan, as a token of gratitude for his work, friendship, and help with our move, my father gave Bill our purple Henry J and he drove back home in it.

At some point, I remember my father telling me that Bill had been mistakenly locked up as a drunk when he’d had a heart issue. He was upset at the news.  I don’t remember how much time passed between that and when Bill had a fatal heart attack, but when my father learned that he had died at the age of 49, he was crushed and broke the news to me. It was only 9 years since our move, and they’d stayed in touch. I always liked the fact that my father wrote a poem to give him a moment of immortality.

— E. Glaze

Earl

He was twenty. He was half crazy.
With his head like a half-baffled chocolate easter egg,
there he was painting my house in Birmingham Alabama
doing things backwards,
painting from the bottom up,
so the new paint from above
ran down on the new paint below,
putting turpentine in the water colors.
He always jumped from the back-porch roof
to the ground- -fourteen feet.
—I used to be a paratrooper, said Earl—
I came down in the war with Russia
Shooting a submachine gun around me in circles,
nobody had a chance to get a bead on me–
I shot them first. They thought
I was the holy, iron-assed , frosted bird.
I won the war—
The top of the house was fifty feet in the air,
the ladder was forty.
Earl fastened a ladder to the gutter.
He nailed a two by four with wooden cleats
to the top of the ladder.
He nailed a paintbrush to a broom.
He climbed up and sat on the top of them all.
He looked like a man just out of a fountain spray
of white paint. He waved the paintbrush
over his head like a banner on top of the broom.
He yelled out over the roofs of Birmingham Alabama
—look at me up here—
Look at me! Anybody want to argue?—

© Andrew Glaze, 1965, from Damned Ugly Children.

Who was Earl?

In 1950, my parents began a 7 year task of converting a large house into 4 apartments (6 if you include an attic apartment and the small servants quarters building in the back yard).  They divided the house into four quandrants, and each time they completed an apartment in one quadrant they would rent it out.  I have memories of living in at least three, if not all four portions of the house, because as soon as the section we were living in was improved, we would move to another quadrant so they could finish it off and rent it. It made for an interesting childhood, and my parents accumlated a large number of construction skills. My mother later taught me to do drywall, and in the ’80’s my father helped me sand the floor in my Manhattan apartment.

For the house in Birmingham they occasionally needed hired help and that is how Earl arrived. My mother later said she felt that Earl had some sort of developmental brain damage that left him a bit simple minded.  I never noticed, but then I was only about 5. In any case, he made himself memorable.  At some point his job required spending time on the roof, and when he was finished he rarely used the ladder to come back down. The house was on the south side of Red Mountain, and the back of the house was built on an upward slope.  My father would make sure I was well out of the danger zone, my heart would rise to my throat, Earl would take a flying leap, and he would land both feet firmly on the ground below. It wasn’t until 1963 that I realized my father had written a poem about him.

— E. Glaze

A journey

I was three years old
and I stepped up into the streetcar
while they thought I was taking a bath
where I sat next to a lady who smelled like raspberries.
Instead, she smiled like a macaroon.
“I’m going to find my mother,” I said.
“Jing!  Jing!” said the bell.
The conductor knew where he would be going,
how could he fail, set like intention
on that shining, parallel window-bar?
They asked me my name and I knew.
Trees and houses, gutters, motorcycles and cars.
So on ever since with never a stop.

© Andrew Glaze, 1974, from A Masque of Surgery

This poem caught the attention of Alice Esty, a wealthy Patron of the Arts and soprano singer, and she commissioned composer Ned Rorem to set it to music for voice. You can go to Youtube to hear an audio version of it.

My father explained his childhood adventure this way:
His father was at work at his medical office downtown, and his mother had taken the streetcar downtown to sit for a portrait at a photographers studio.  His nanny was looking after him, but he managed to get dressed and sneak out, probably while she was doing other things around the house. He confidently waited at the streetcar stop and climbed on when it stopped for riders.

The lady he sat next to — who smelled like a macaroon — turned out to be a genius. She quickly realized he was on his own, engaged him in conversation and in short order  learned his father’s name and the fact that his father had an office downtown.  She stood up, quietly instructed the driver not to let the little boy leave the Streetcar, got off at the next stop, found a phone, and called his father’s office to tell them what was going on. By the time the streetcar arrived downtown by his father’s office, his mother was there waiting for him. He said he ran to his mother, happily exclaiming, “Momma what took you so long!”  My father followed this with, “and that’s how I ended up in the portrait photo”. My uncle and I recently searched for a studio portrait of my father with his mother at that age. When we found it we realized that his baby sister was also in it. So perhaps he wasn’t happy at being left behind, and that was the motivation for his journey.

—E. Glaze

A Journey photo