Gaudeamus Igitur

When I was twelve, I was girl crazy and crazy for horror movies like Frankenstein and The Wolf Man. I doted on a kind, friendly girl in the seventh grade. I went to her house on a summer afternoon, and we played catch. Another girl lived a block away from me. We lay chastely on her bed—fully clothed, discreetly separated—when her mother peeked in, her face rank with anxiety. In eighth grade I went loony over a tall blonde from the slow track whom I had known all through Spring Glen Grammar School. She was beautiful, and I was lovesick. She would not let me kiss her. I took her to the high school prom when we were freshmen, and we had our picture taken. I remember the photograph, her flowered skirt and black velvet top against which she spread out her long yellow hair—Susan Frisbee. I remember all their names.

Lon Chaney Jr. played the title role in The Wolf Man and its sequels. There was always a moment when the mild-mannered citizen grew thick hair on his face while his eyeteeth elongated and he became the werewolf, scourge of Transylvania and doubtless of tall pretty girls with blond hair. Vampires and werewolves were ordinary folk who became alienated powerful outsiders, pure evil, therefore romantic, attractive, and dangerous. I told a neighbor boy, two years older, how I took the bus into New Haven alone on a Saturday afternoon to see horror films. He told me that if I liked that sort of thing, I ought to read Edgar Allan Poe. I didn’t know this author’s name, but in my parents’ bookshelves I found a boxed two-volume set of his work, one of those cheap fancy editions that the Book of the Month Club called Dividends. I was dumbstruck. It was the best stuff I had read in my entire life!

Elevated by terror and necrophilia, I read Poe’s tales and poems—all the dead young women, some of whom walked at night, albeit dead. I wanted to write stories like these stories, poems like these poems. I wanted to be Edgar Allan Poe, and I wrote my first poem, “The End of All,” which was morbid but with none of Poe’s sound. Every time I say it, or write it down, it’s a little different.

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