He sends kisses to his dear sweetheart. He longs for her urgently. Evenings on this campus are early and empty, but she mustn’t imagine him running after Creole girls. The younger women have fiery husbands. The older ones are more the Miss Perkins type, spinsters whose charms don’t tempt him.
The Miss Perkins was my friend and summer neighbor in upstate New York. As a child, I would visit her well-appointed cottage to drink ginger ale and discuss literature—The Wind in the Willows or Winnie the Pooh. She never spoke of being a Wellesley professor. Nor of the immigrant novelist who taught for a year in her department, failed to get a permanent position, and had to undertake the tedious lecture tour.
A decade later, he inscribed a copy of his memoir, Conclusive Evidence, To my dear friend, Agnes Perkins. I have the book on my desk. Under the inscription is a drawing of a butterfly and a message: This is one of my very best species.
Miss Agnes Perkins was a moth with a boxy body and feathery gray wings, kept folded during the day. On summer nights they could be seen clinging to reading lamps, porch-lights, or the Moon.
See Sarah White's letter on this subject, "Neighbor to Neighbor", in the New Yorker of July 11 & 18, 2011.
Sarah White's recent book, Alice Ages and Ages (Blaze Vox, 2010) was reviewed in Offcourse #44 by Ricardo Nirenberg. She is also author of a poetry collection, Cleopatra Haunts the Hudson (Spuyten Duyvil, 2007), a chapbook, Mrs. Bliss and the Paper Spouses (Pudding House, 2007), and a lyric essay, The Poem Has Reasons: A Story of Far Love (online at www.proempress.com). She lives, writes, and paints in Manhattan. See her poems in Offcourse #43, "You mean you are allowed to do that?" in #44 and "The Devastation of the Indies" in #45.