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Authors: Barry Gifford

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Landscape With Traveler

BOOK: Landscape With Traveler
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Landscape with Traveler

The Pillow Book of Francis Reeves

Barry Gifford

Seven Stories Press

New York

 

Copyright ©
1980
by Barry Gifford

Introduction to the new edition copyright © 2013 by Barry Gifford

First Seven Stories Press Edition,
2013.

The characters and events described in this book are entirely ficticious. Any resemblances to persons living or dead are coincidental.

The poem “Lad of Athens,” is reprinted by permission of the publishers and the Trustees of Amherst College from
The Poems of Emily Dickinson
, edited by Thomas H. Johnson, Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, copyright ©
1951
,
1955
by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Wang Wei's poem is reprinted from
Poems of Wang Wei
, translated by G. W. Robinson, with the permission of Penguin Books. The quotation from the diary of Murasaki Shikibu, translated by Ivan Morris, is reprinted from the Introduction to
The Pillow Book of Sei Sh
ōnagon
with the permission of Columbia University Press. “Reading in the Study in the Bamboo Grove” is reprinted from
Persimmons: Poems for Paintings
, with the permission of Shaman Drum.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including mechanical, electronic, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Seven Stories Press

140
Watts Street

New York, NY
10013

www.sevenstories.com

College professors may order examination copies of Seven Stories Press titles for free. To order, visit http://www.sevenstories.com/textbook or send a fax on school letterhead to (
212
)
226
-
1411
.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Gifford, Barry, 1946-

Landscape with traveler : the pillow book of Francis Reeves / Barry Gifford. -- A Seven Stories Press First Edition.

pages cm

Originally published by E. P. Dutton New York, 1980.

ISBN 978-1-60980-499-2 (alk. paper)

1. Gay men--Fiction. I. Title.

PS3557.I283L3 2013

813'.54--dc23

2013017511

Printed in the United States

9
8
7
6
5
4
3
2
1

 

For M.R.C.

And with thanks to L.L. and

Paul De Angelis for their faith.

 

The people spoke a peculiar dialect

But the orioles sounded as in my

country

And luckily I know about landscape

And that abated my feeling of isolation.

—Wang Wei

Lad of Athens, faithful be

To thyself,

And Mystery—

All the rest is perjury—

—Emily Dickinson

Sei Shōnagon has the most

extraordinary air of self-satisfaction.

Yet, if we stop to examine those Chinese

writings of hers that she so

presumptuously scatters about the place,

we find that they are full of

imperfections. Someone who makes

such an effort to be different from others

is bound to fall in people's esteem, and I

can only think that her future will be a

hard one. She is a gifted woman, to be

sure. Yet, if one gives free rein to one's

emotions even under the most

inappropriate circumstances, if one has

to sample each interesting thing that

comes along, people are bound to regard

one as frivolous. And how can things

turn out well for such a woman?

—Murasaki Shikibu

 

Introduction

to

the

New

Edition

of

Landscape

with

Traveler

I first made the acquaintance of Marshall Clements, the M.R.C. of the novel's dedication, through our correspondence about books beginning in
1969
. He was then working at The Phoenix Bookshop, located at
18
Cornelia Street in Greenwich Village in New York City, and I was living two hundred miles north of San Francisco in Mendocino County, in California, on thirty-five acres in the middle of a redwood forest without a telephone (there were no telephone lines on the Star Route eighteen miles north of Westport—my mailing address) and irregular electricity provided by the county. I worked odd jobs in the woods and wrote poetry and songs. Over several months Marshall and I developed our epistolary relationship. He told me something of his background growing up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, his years as a ballet dancer, and life in New York since the early
1950
s. I did likewise, also relating my current activities such as repairing polyethylene lines that conducted water from a spring cave on a two-thousand-foot mountain to our water tank with duct tape to seal holes made by black bears (they liked to chew on the rubber hoses). Eventually we decided to meet in person and I went to visit him in New York. Marshall was gay, I was not—I lived with my then girlfriend, later wife, Mary Lou; Marshall lived alone—and he told me friends of his suspected I was “hustling” him for one reason or another; friends of mine thought that he would attempt to seduce me. Both sides had it wrong: Marshall, who was then forty—I was twenty-three—and I became real friends. He was a gracious and generous host and we shared not only literary interests but compatible senses of humor. This first meeting was in October of
1970
, and for the next three decades, until Marshall's death, I had a place in his apartment on Riverside Drive, often staying for periods as long as two months.

Marshall's perspective on life in general and the specifics of his philosophy—though he would never call it that—intrigued me to the point where I suggested he write down his thoughts, perhaps in the form of an autobiography. He only laughed and offered the opinion that his life history and ideas would be of little or no interest to anyone. I disagreed, especially since I soon came to think of him as something of a teacher—again, he would have abhorred any such notion—and, with Marshall's editorial assistance, undertook the task myself. Having never written a novel I welcomed his participation, which consisted of reading my manuscript as I went along, marking places with comments such as, “Francis Reeves (the main character's name) would never do this,” or “Francis is incapable of saying this.” He would then tell me precisely what “Francis”
would
do or say. Marshall also decided that “Kenneth,” the name for the character I had originally chosen, was not right; Marshall preferred Francis, after Francis of Assisi, his favorite saint. “Reeves” was Marshall's own middle name, which I used from the beginning and that Marshall approved.

When the novel
Landscape with Traveler
(I took the title from a painting attributed to Shinsō [Sōami] in the sixteenth century that I had seen at Daitoku-ji in Kyoto, Japan) was published in hardcover by E. P. Dutton in New York in January of
1980
, it became an occasion of great interest if not something of a sensation in the gay community. I was the first—and perhaps only—“straight” man featured on the cover of
Christopher Street
magazine, which published an interview with me. I appeared on national television on
The
Today Show
—I remember a seemingly perplexed Jane Pauley, one of the hosts, asking me, “And what do your wife and mother think of the book?”—as well as on many local television and radio programs. Everyone wanted to know how and/or why a heterosexual man would choose to write an “autobiographical” fiction using the voice of a homosexual protagonist. Prominent gay writers of the day sought me out, curious as to the “real” nature of my relationship with whomever the person was whose voice I had so cleverly ventriloquized on the page. Most of the print reviews were favorable, many laudatory to an extreme, although there were those that confused me with Francis Reeves. A few were puzzled by the sub-title: What was a Pillow Book? they wanted to know. It was an elegant term for diary, I explained, which I had appropriated from
The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon
, kept one thousand years before during the Heian Era in Japan. There were gay critics, carried away by the pre-AIDS coming-out fervor of the time, who disliked what they perceived as Francis Reeves' rather more conservative views regarding sexual practices; but the majority of the gay press embraced the book wholeheartedly. I was amazed that when I did signings at gay bookstores such as The Oscar Wilde Bookshop in New York and The Walt Whitman Bookstore in San Francisco, patrons lined up around the block to buy copies of the novel, many in multiples.

The book sold well and subsequently was reprinted in paperback editions, first by Holt/Owl and later on by Vintage Books/Random House. This new edition from Seven Stories returns the story of Francis Reeves to print after fifteen years' absence. It's good to have him back again. I hope that
Landscape
will have a small measure of the success it previously enjoyed. If this novel still has the power to pleasure and amuse, if not enlighten, the real credit, of course, goes to my dear friend Marshall Reeves Clements. As for its author, I defer to what Graham Greene concluded in his
1968
essay, “Africa Revisited”: “for a writer as much as for a priest there is no such thing as success.”

 

—Barry Gifford

 

Author's

Note

Landscape with Traveler
is as unconventional as the “traveler” himself. Francis Reeves's novel, or “Pillow Book,” as he prefers to call it, is an expression of perspective certainly unusual in our time. It would perhaps be more precise to say “his” time, since I believe it will quickly become apparent to the reader that Francis Reeves's world is most clearly his own, one to which not many of us can lay claim to ever having perceived.

Like the composer Varèse, who, when asked why he was so far ahead of his time, responded adamantly that since he was alive he was very much
of
his time, that it was everyone who could not fathom his music who was indeed
behind
the times, Francis Reeves is an anachronism, an inhabitant of a civilized design that has perhaps never existed other than as a seldom-recorded state of mind. I offer his view of the landscape as evidence of such sensibility.

 

B. G.

 

Landscape with Traveler

 

1

I

Don't

Know

That

This

Will

Be

of

Very

Great

Interest

I don't know that this will be of very great interest to anyone, but it seems such a perfect place to begin. I'm on a bouncing bus going back to New York after a weekend on Fire Island, which was quite pleasant in spite of my misgivings beforehand. The bus service is the best thing
that's happened in years for going to F.I. It picks you up at various convenient places around New York, gives you a free drink—fifty cents each for seconds and thirds—and a package of toasted almonds, and takes you right to the ferry. Plus they allow dogs (sans carriers).

Before, I had to cab it to the station, take a train (with dog in carrier), then another cab to the ferry—and usually had to stand all the way on the train—all of which usually cost well over the bus price besides being a rather unpleasant trip being bustled about by Long Island commuters, feisty conductors, hot trains (the buses are air conditioned), etc., ad infinitum. But then some enterprising fellow got the idea of chartering buses, and the Bus-A-Long was born.

At first, so I'm told, it was strictly a gay affair, with orgies all the way back to New York in the back part of the bus. Dick Cornelia swears that the first time he took the bus a giggling voice was heard to say, “Don't come in the air conditioner, Mary—it'll go all over the bus!”
Se non è vero, è ben trovato. Now, however, it's quite integrated and proper.

But I was rather sad on the trip out just from looking at all the people—the handsome young men so secure in their youth and beauty, and the old ones looking at them, envying them, desiring them perhaps, remembering probably when they too were young and sure that (if they ever thought about it at all) they always would be.

As they looked at them there seemed also to be a certain pity in their eyes that these kids had such a bitter lesson to learn in front of them—a certain sad tolerance of their arrogant flaunting of their invulnerable youth and good looks. Fair cheeks and fine bodies, etc.

There is also a great deal of projection in all this on my part, I'm sure, though I don't really have those feelings about growing old. Still, to most “active” (as opposed to old tranquil me!) homosexuals youth is the pinnacle, so I doubt I was too far wrong in my musings. And they all seemed so awfully lonely, young and old alike—as opposed to being alone (like me). And as I thought that, it occurred to me that they might be thinking the same thing when they looked at me.

Sad, too, to look at the beautiful young men and have their beauty almost totally canceled out by their theatrically effeminate mannerisms. They were all smoking like Bette Davis, calling each other “Dahling” like Tallulah, holding their eyelids half-shut like Dietrich—etc., etc., but even that wasn't consistent. It alternated with limp-wristed slaps and playful shoves and high-pitched squeals of “Oh,
Mary,
you bitch, you're really
such
a camp!” and the inevitable sidelong glances to make sure it was not lost on the spectators. But they mostly got drunk and/or tired and finally calmed down.

It was nice at last to leave the bus and sit on the open top deck of the little “ferry” (I had to laugh the first time I went to Fire Island, remembering the ferries on the Mississippi, to see these little sixty or so foot boats) with spray hitting you in the face and to forget the bus trip.

Mostly it was a quiet and very nice (therefore) weekend. I “had” to go to one big loud cocktail party, but only for a half hour or so, and refused both nights to go to the bars. The moon was full so Zagg (my dog) and I took long walks along the beach all by ourselves and it was beautiful enough to bring tears to one's eyes. Nothing like “nature” to clear the head! I don't mean necessarily
visible
nature, to which I am fairly indifferent, but rather the hiss of cosmic silence, or the natural sounds and smells of air and water and sand squeaking under your bare heels, and the expansion that only solitude in the open produces—preferably the virgin, uninhabited open, but in this case the illusion was made convincing by the moonlit dark and by keeping one's eyes toward the ocean until one was in a sufficient trance of self-communication to see nothing.

I was amused to be flagrantly flirted with by a most handsome young man for whom everyone was on the make but me. He had come by with several friends the night before (friends of his) at about midnight to pick up my host and go to the bars. He kept insisting that I come with them, at which knowing looks passed among the others. But I stuck to my guns and went for a walk (and to bed) alone, much, apparently, to the others' consternation and amazement. Though I can't say that I wasn't at least a little tempted.

However, it's good to be going home, as always. Why
do
I always weaken and accept these invitations?

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