CONJUNCTIONS:41, Fall 2003
Letters to Peter
Fanny Howe



1955


Dear Peter:

When we met on the beach in Killiney, I was running away from my mother. She was driving me insane. I hope you didn't think I was crazy when I threw my teacup into the sea. Then, when it smashed on the rock, and you came up to me with a pair of false teeth, it was all really funny. I was just nervous. That's why I backed away laughing. I wasn't really scared of the teeth. You were nice, but I am back in America now and I doubt if we will ever meet again. I am fourteen. If you feel like it, write to me about your life.


1955


Dear Peter:

Well, now I am back in America. Everything seems really speedy and bright, but I can't stop remembering Ireland anyway. Even that gooseberry fool with Devonshire cream that we ate, and the smell of boxwood. Our walk around Sandymount and Ballsbridge. You are so tall, I feel like June Allyson or something. My uncle John did not approve of me seeing you. He knew your family but that wasn't why. He is so romantic with his motorcycle and his good looks and girlfriends, I don't know why he would be so suspicious and judging. But I can never really tell what he feels about anything, even me. He just doesn't trust me because I am American, or something. As if I would do anything!

He didn't need to worry since I hardly ever saw you all summer. I don't blame you. You have your normal life and friends and I am a stranger. At least we had a couple of good days together, and they say that the way two people are together, when they first meet, is the way they are always deep down.

Write to me, if you feel like it, though I doubt that you will.


1956


Dear Peter:

Thank you for your letter. Today it is snowing here. My parents are out at a dinner party and I am babysitting my sister who is five. Yes. I have a boyfriend now. You won't believe it but he is from Ireland, named Liam Clancy. I am fifteen. He is seventeen. His brother Tom lived in our basement for ages and my older sister used to have a crush on his older brother Paddy. He's not at all snobby like you. There is always a lot of theater stuff going on around our house. Liam is writing beautiful songs for the Countess Cathleen. He plays Aleel. He sings to me and plays the guitar. I bet you have a girlfriend or two. I still think of that day we walked over the stones to Sweet Pea Lane, and stood in the tunnel together. You probably don't remember but you recited "The song of Wandering Aengus." You made a few promises you didn't keep. But don't worry, I am used to that. My mother is sort of like you. But she keeps promises, she just doesn't tell the truth. I am really glad anyway to know you are at home from school for the Christmas holidays.


1956


Dear Peter:

For some reason I bet you are lying. It just doesn't sound right. You are having an affair with an actress twenty years older than you???? Well, maybe it is true. Liam is going to New York a lot to sing, and an older woman wants to sleep with him and help his career, but he won't. He always tells the truth. I still get furious at my mother when she exaggerates, but I like coming home from school to see her when she is still fine and funny. When she is working at the Poets Theater she is fine too. I go there after school almost every day and watch rehearsals or help out. Once I was in a play where I said, one line, "Virtue's been struck a blow, a dreadful blow," and I stammered. I ruined it. Before that I was in a play and the reviewer said, "She played the part of a child and acted like one."

It's fun being around the theater but I HATE being in plays. The costume room next to the theater is a riot. Mr. Pankhurst lives there and on freezing nights people dressed like fairies and pirates run up Palmer Street to the theater from his place. Tell me more about your life. I doubt if we will ever see each other again.


1956


Dear Peter:

Thank you for writing. I was amazed when the letter came. I wish you could see where I live. To answer your question: I'm really lucky. My father is a professor. McCarthy called him "pink." Sometimes FBI men used to come to the door at night. Alger Hiss was his friend. Do you know any of these people? America is scary. Our house is on the top of a hill with lots of trees around and my mother has made a beautiful garden in back. We have a big screen porch and a dog. We also have a piano for you to play If you ever come here, which you won't.

I don't think my father likes Irish people much and he is married to one. They seem wild to him, or something. He kicked on out of the house (Desmond O'Grady, a poet) for being drunk. My mother is not like other mothers in Cambridge. She acts outrageous and lots of people don't get her jokes. She can be a bitch. New Englanders get nervous easily. She makes them nervous. They are so prissy. I hate grown-ups. Sometimes I hate my mother. When she gulps down vodka in orange juice and gets all sloppy and vicious. My father hides in his study. They aren't happily married but like the same jokes. This is boring. Tell me about your family.


1958


Dear Peter:

My mother thinks she knows your mother and your family, and we might be related. Anyway, your life sounds exciting with all the music, riding your bike to conduct concerts, your brother and sisters, etc. Wow! I am boring. But guess what I did? I jumped over the wall like a nun. I escaped from a school outside Sèvres, where I was sent to improve my French. I hated it and got the gardener to help me escape. Then I went into Paris on a train, with no money, and called Mr. Beckett for help. He was my mother's friend in Ireland. We went to his play in London years ago and I sat beside him and dropped my candy bar down the seat in front of us and it stuck to a fat man's back and melted all through the play. The play was called "Waiting For Godot." That was just before I met you, I think, that summer.

Mr. Beckett has helped me survive for two weeks before my mother comes over. He is kind but not gooey. I feel he is telling me important things that I can't quite understand. I think he's an existentialist.

Well, I didn't get in to any colleges because I am such a bad student, so I am being sent into exile. To college in California where they still want people from the east coast. Even idiots. I was always bad in school, unlike you. I HATE it. It is JAIL! It's embarrassing because my older sister is superior to me. She is really beautiful, she reads all the time, she is a good student, and she looks like Orson Welles when she tips down her head and looks up from under. My mother worships her, and wants her to be an actress. They both read everything. I stupidly read the same things over and over again. I am better than my sister at languages, but that's not saying too much. Luckily I write poetry and she doesn't, so this gives me a thing that is completely my own. I love French poetry, even in French.

Is your older brother mean to you? Is he a musician too? Do you feel inferior to him? Liam went to New York with his brothers and these older women who seduced him. He actually acted like he still liked me, but it is too hard for us to stay close. He is getting famous and far away. Sometimes I visit him in Greenwich Village but it doesn't make us happy the way it used to when we "both sat down together like sister and brother and listened to the nightingale sing." That was our song. Oh well, tell me about your life if you have time. It's raining today but the magnolias are in bloom and I have e. e. cummings to cheer me up with his spring poems. See you in three months, maybe, I hope.


1958


Dear Peter:

It was so great that you came all the way to Paris to see me! But my mother can be unbelievable. Sorry. She was spying on us, just as you thought, when we went into the hotel room alone and meanwhile she was flirting madly with Mr. Beckett. And we didn't do anything wrong. The best part was walking in the Tuileries with you while Mr. B peed in that pissoir by the tree. He wasn't even embarrassed. Did you like what he said about Descartes writing in the fireplace? I did. Supposedly Mr. Beckett's a good writer. Once someone came over and asked for his autograph while we were in a café. He was irritated and embarrassed. Then we went to see a great movie called "The Cranes Are Flying." His wife came with us. She didn't say anything. You weren't there yet and I never thought you would come because you don't know me. I want to be a writer, really a poet. Why, I don't know. I love poetry. I have a book with pictures of all the poets. The handsome men ones-Wilbur and Merwin-look so poetic, it seems that they were made to be what they were. But I guess I like Baudelaire better even if he looks stern and not handsome. Do you like his pomes? I love Rilke and Anna Akhmatova. (I am a failure at school, by the way.)

You are obviously really smart and good at school. Why did you disappear? You don't keep your word very well. That's horrible. I waited at the Louvre. That night at the hotel I kept listening to the elevator coming and going and thinking maybe you would show up, but you didn't. I'm glad I never kissed you! Be brave. Tell me where you went and why. Will you be a composer and come to America someday? Mr. Beckett was very impressed. He said you had a very good mind and therefore you would find a way to ruin it!


1960


Dear Peter:

It has actually been two years since we saw each other. You never answered my last letter. So I don't know why I am writing to you. I am now in college in California. All my best friends went to college in Boston and New York, so I am very homesick. My parents put me on a plane and sent me here. They have never been to California, so I just got off the plane and found my way to a bus and the dorm alone. I am not feeling sorry for myself because it is so beautiful here. You would be too European to like it, but for some reason I love the palm trees and the flowers everywhere. Eucalyptus smells like boxwood.