Friday, December 3, 2010

"Jenkins. I live in the apartment opposite. Want to help me catch a hawk?"

Wednesday, I said goodbye to Dr. David Clay Jenkins at a memorial service in the Great Hall of the Wren Building at the College of William & Mary.  Marianne and I were the only people in the room who referred to him as Dr. Jenkins, rather than David.  In a weird way, I felt that gave me a kind of parallax view that those who only knew him as a friend and colleague didn't have.

I could write a book about all I felt and thought that evening.  But, time being finite, I shan't.

Instead, I will take some of what I heard at the memorial to create a fable or possibly even (if you are, as I know you to be, charitable) a prose poem.

Skellig Michael

Dr. Jenkins had an appointment with a friend in Edinburgh.  But when he got there, the friend's landlord said he'd moved on to Skellig Michael.  Skellig Michael is an island, mountainous and steep, where monks once went for solitude.  A visitor had recently fallen from its cliffs to the ocean and her death only three hours after her arrival.  There Dr. Jenkins went nevertheless, only to find the seas too rough for anyone to risk a boat from the mainland.  For three days he lingered, occasionally speaking to his friend on shortwave radio, his Alabama accent strange on the local ether, before his time grew short and he had to turn back.
Some years later, a colleague took the appointment on as his own, traveled to Ireland, hired a boat, and got within feet of the dock at Skellig Michael.  But the sea was too wild for him to put ashore.  So nothing came of that either.
Late in life, Dr. Jenkins forgot all the particulars and came to believe that he'd once gone to Skellig Michael.  His friends did not disillusion him of this belief.
Later he died.
It is  recorded, though how or by whom is unclear, that after his death Dr. Jenkins came at last to Skellig Michael.  The boat was unsteady, but his foot landed solidly upon the island.  With a song in his heart and a hawk flying far over his shoulder, he began to climb.

And because I'm waxing nostalgic . . .

Here's a story Dr. Jenkins told me:

Rather strange for a professor of English, Dr. Jenkins made a custom of befriending all the writers of any significance in Tidewater Virginia.  Which is how I came to meet Murray Leinster, but that's a different story.  One of those writers was Jack Woodford, who in his time was the king of the soft-porn writers.  In an age when all of the verbs and most of the nouns we use in erotic fiction were strictly tabu, he was the master of implying terrifically smutty scenes using prose fit for a rather naive nun.  In his later life, Woodford stumbled into a remunerative second career as a writer of how-to-write books.  And toward the end his life, because of tragedies that had nothing to do with his career, he was institutionalized in Eastern State Asylum as being mentally ill.

Dr. Jenkins went to visit Woodford regularly.  One day he confided in me that on his most recent visit, as he was leaving, a nurse drew him aside.

"I saw you were visiting Mr. Woodford,"


"The poor dear," she said.  "He thinks he's a writer."

Dr. Jenkins never tried to discourage me from being a writer.  But quietly and without fuss he let me know right at the outset what the price might be.


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