Arts & Culture / Health / The Reading Room / Vol 3. No. 1


Christopher "Daze" Ellis, sixth sense

Image Credit: Christopher “Daze” Ellis, sixth sense, (2020), 36 x 40 ins. 91.4 x 101.6 cm, acrylic pumice, and spray paint on canvas. Courtesy of the artist and P·P·O·W, New York.

The August sunset burnished the room. People swarming in costumes–tangerine scarf and ballooning teal trousers on one woman, another with some kind of free-form jewelry, like golden arms encircling her neck.  Men in suits and ties, younger ones in shirts with Beckett-styled hedged hair and Yeatsian rimmed glasses.  Polyglot chatter: Italian, French, German, English, maybe Russian in the mix. A soirée at Brunnenberg Castle, perched up in the South Tyrol of Northern Italy.  Fitting in felt beyond my reach, but I tried to dress the part in my hand-painted black jacket from an LA boutique: sketched-up buildings of lavender, pink, yellow, with rhinestones for the city lights.

‘What is your Pound specialty?’ 

This was the conversational glue of the evening, the finale to the summer session of the Ezra Pound Center for Literature held at Brunnenburg, where Pound had spent some of his last years. The property was now owned by his daughter Princess Mary de Racheviltz; she was the keeper of her father’s fame, the exemplary hostess circulating among the students, poets, agents, editors, scholars, family friends, and hangers-on. I was one of those, and I held on as firmly as I could to Kathryne’s coattails and cocktails.

When I answered the Pound specialty question with ‘I don’t have one,’ I met glares meant for party-crashers, or puzzled stares. As I became accustomed to this question, I mentioned my own field of Victorian literature, and to my surprise there were a few Rossetti descendants in attendance. Kathryne had warned me about the scene. ‘The place will be glutted with Poundians–devotees of one stripe or another–Celebrants and Apologists.  We’re here because they know I published a book on Pound, but none of these motherfuckers ever read beyond the cover, or I’d be persona non grata at The Schloss.’  As often the case with Kathryne, she was an outsider with insider access, a tightrope act that amused her. 


Despite her disdain for the Poundians, Kathryne had waxed lyrical about The Schloss–as she called Castle Brunnenburg–when she planned our European tour for the summer of 1990. Because of her Pound book, she’d had a standing invitation and meant to cash it in.  The Schloss was the centerpiece of our travels, capping off a year when we had become close friends.

We had arrived at the same time in Madison, Wisconsin from Cambridge, Massachusetts in September 1989.  Kathryne was an associate professor at Harvard, promoted but without tenure, and had recently published Reading Pound Reading; she had won a fellowship at Wisconsin’s Institute for Research in the Humanities to write another book.  I had been hired as an assistant professor of English there, and made the move to Madison six weeks after my mother’s death.  New to the Midwest and each living alone, we fell in together and stayed together, including throwing parties at Kathryne’s rental house, an Arts and Crafts bungalow in a neighborhood that boasted Frank Lloyd Wright architecture. People assumed we were a couple.  

By early June Kathryne had devised the itinerary. First we’d drive to Cambridge, where she would unload her belongings at Harvard. In Europe, we’d begin with a conference on James Joyce in Monaco, then several weeks in Milan before heading to the castle with the Pounds and Poundians in northern Italy, and from there to Munich to visit her friends and Berlin to visit mine.  


Two years earlier, my first memory of Kathryne V. Lindberg: She’s paging through a book while kneeling on the floor of the Literary Criticism section of Wordsworth Bookstore in Harvard Square. By day I was writing my dissertation on confessional modes in Victorian literature; by evening, I was a clerk at the bookstore, the perfect antidote to hours alone in my head struggling to write something anyone would find interesting. Part of my job was keeping the Lit Crit inventory; I was going through those shelves, from Auerbach, Bakhtin, and Barthes at the top when I saw her. What was Kathryne reading? Perhaps Raymond Williams, on the bottom shelf. I later discovered that she absorbed everything she read in literary theory and political philosophy, firing rapid-sharp critiques along the way. I might catch every fourth sentence, if I were particularly attentive. On this occasion, she was wondering where the bookstore shelved Frantz Fanon, and C. L. R. James, who’d recently died.  

While she quizzed me about the stock, I took a quick inventory of her appearance: a tweedy suit—she did love those Jaegers in her wardrobe—and stockings and brown pumps, her dark blonde hair pulled back with a clip.  A conservative dresser, a proper lady professor at Harvard, I thought. How wrong I was.  Looking back, I consider that first impression a sartorial joke, but she needed those clothes as a professional woman of a certain era.  There was almost nothing conventional about Kathryne, from the spelling of her name with the terminal silent e she loved, her mother’s linguistic embellishment.  She did like cats. Maybe that was her conventional streak, but there were hardly any others. 

Kathryne was ferocious in all her passions. That fall she scoured Madison for wine.  It’s Beaujolais Nouveau season, she let me know, after she’d arranged to buy a case. Several months later, as spring finally unfolded in South Central Wisconsin, she met someone who took her on a forest trek for morels.  Morel season it was, and the Beaujolais Nouveau was gone. No matter, the morels paired with Cabernets, and she lined all this up in her kitchen where I sat, while she cooked, drank, smoked, with music playing from the next room, jazz mostly, but also opera: Davis and Donizetti at high volume. She let me know her particular hatreds in music.  ‘I broke every damn Joni Mitchell album my college roommate had,’ she warned me.  So I hid mine.  There was always plenty to quarrel lavishly about–and fiercely.

Early that fall in Madison, we took road trips to explore the Upper Midwest, a foreign country to us both.  One day our route took us to outlet malls off I-94 as we headed east to Milwaukee.  Just as Kathryne encouraged me to read more broadly into philosophy, social theory, and poetry, to listen to music beyond my hidden stash of pop and folk music, she eagerly steered me through shopping sprees.  Did I need this bargain-sale item she’d picked out for me from a table display? I hesitated. Then I’d end up at the cashier with Kathryne buying matching nightgowns or sweater vests.  In Milwaukee, we walked on the shores of Lake Michigan, and ate a decent Italian dinner, not overcooked or thickly sauced, to Kathryne’s discriminating palate. 

We each had our respective food restrictions, sometimes overlapping, other times clashing. My diet sat well with her penchant for pasta with morels cooked in garlic and sherry, or more pasta, with goat cheese and a medley of habaneros and jalapenos–the hotter, the better, was her culinary mantra.  But anything soy–tofu, tamari, or oil lurking in some packaged nuts–was anathema to Kathryne, while a staple for me. She had a soy allergy which made her feel sick within minutes of ingestion. Kathryne enjoyed meat, especially pâtés and terrines crammed with organ bits of every variety, the fresher the offal, the better. The mere thought of these food sources withered my vegetarian heart. For the most part I kept quiet, though sometimes facial tics of disgust slipped out, and she noticed. At fine-dining venues, Kathryne would get into a heated dispute with the wait staff over the quality or the preparation of her dish, and back to the kitchen went the subpar plate.  We were compatible in this regard, since I was forever suspecting hidden fish sauce or meat particles. I imagine we were each the kind of diner that made servers cringe and scowl, and so they did from Madison and Milwaukee to Milan. 

During that fall, we visited Chicago, where we stayed in my cousin Ellen’s house in Wilmette.  Ellen was on her own road trip somewhere, so we had the house to ourselves. For hours that night, on a repeat loop, Lou Reed blasted “Heroin”:

I don’t know where I’m going, 

But I’m gonna try for the kingdom if I can 

‘Cause it makes me feel like a man 

When I put that spike into my vein…

Kathryne had provided an audio tour of Reed and the Velvet Underground earlier that day, full of discography details. Later she played “Heroin” over and over, at a volume that made my eardrums throb. As a teenager in the late 60s, Haight-Ashbury Kathryne had nearly died of heroin use, and she showed me a photograph of a waifish, dangerously thin girl.  Hepatitis complications continued to rear up throughout her life. That night of Reed growling and shouting Heroin, I sensed something festering beneath Kathryne’s carapace–the belligerent retort, the constant jabs about politics, intellectual heroes, or music, or you name it, punctuated with ‘you motherfucker’ this and that.

Broken in ways I shrank from but recognized fleetingly in myself, Kathryne was all for connecting people around her. ‘Here, talk to Mitchell,’ she’d insist, when we were together and she had her ex-husband on the phone. “Is Kathryne behaving herself?”  Mitchell would ask.  Or later when she was living in Detroit, she’d instruct her second husband, ‘Murray, talk to Susan.’  It didn’t much matter if we knew each other or had anything to say. What mattered was our shared bond with Kathryne. 

Once when she was visiting her parents in San Francisco, she summoned her mother to the phone with the by then familiar, ‘Talk to Susan.’ I never met her mother, but during those few minutes when directed to talk to each other, she told me that Kathryne had been a strange child: She didn’t like to be held; she was always thinking.  I hadn’t asked for an anatomy of the psyche of the infant Kathryne, and I didn’t prolong these awkward conversations.

Besides showing me old photos of herself, Kathryne said little about her childhood.  There was one story she loved, one that confirmed that she was light years ahead of the pack, and a smart-ass. During a spelling lesson in third grade, the teacher asked the children whether they would rather have a d-e-s-e-r-t or a d-e-s-s-e-r-t. Kathryne told me, ‘Damn! All those fools hollered out, dessert! dessert! We want the dessert!  I was the only one who said, I’ll take the d-e-s-e-r-t—and all the oil there too.  Then I’ll have plenty of money to buy desserts for several lifetimes.’


We flew into Brussels, rented a car, and drove through the night to reach Monte Carlo for the Joyce Conference. Kathryne did the driving—she enjoyed it and drove fast. She also spent the night writing her conference talk in our hotel room bathroom. The conference itself was not especially memorable except for the panel with Stephen Joyce and his crew of agents and editors. Kathryne debriefed me on the crazy things people said and did to hold onto their connection to a literary luminary, whether deserved, desperate, or deranged.  I was stunned by the blatant hostility Stephen Joyce expressed toward academics; his notoriety for denying permission to quote his grandfather, who died when he was a child, was legendary. He sat on that stage pontificating as if he alone held the keys to Joyce’s work, as he did to the literary estate.  

While in Monte Carlo, I tagged along at Kathryne’s insistence to a dinner with ‘an associate,’ she told me, a scholar from the Netherlands. Slender and tall, festooned in scarves and wearing sunglasses at dusk, the Joycean woman really wanted Kathryne to herself, and was clearly displeased to see me there. Kathryne thought the woman wanted to fuck her, and she was relieved to have me as her bodyguard.  At the conference she was also sought after by men who knew her from previous academic gatherings and paid copious attention to what she had to say. Despite my inclination to stay behind when this or that scholar proposed getting together with her for drinks or a meal, Kathryne urged me to come. I gave a paper on Lacan’s lectures on Joyce and ‘the mirror stage’ at a session scheduled for the final morning where a handful of people dotted the room–Kathryne eagerly in the front row, ready with a question. Having her enthusiasm for my work flattered me. After the panel, I stood awkwardly to the side, like a dangling accessory, when a man approached Kathryne about her talk the previous day on Joyce and Pound. My mirror stage seemed to reflect Kathryne.

The combination of her eccentric brilliance and swaggering defiance drew many people to her. I basked in the glow of her bravado, intellectual and otherwise, and her spirit of adventure, and the attention she paid to me, as well as some kind of visceral beauty I felt, although I tried to ignore that erotic pull.  

Surprisingly, she reminded me of my mother, strange on the surface, since these women were very far apart in years, background, education.  Her smoky hazel eyes were uncannily like my mother’s; so, too, her no-nonsense candor, her wily humor, her impatience with some protocols, adherence to others. There was something about their misplaced accents, slight drawls that had nothing to do with where they had lived. People mistook my mother for a Southerner or from England, although she spent her entire life in metropolitan New York. Kathryne had inflections that made her sound like a Texas cowboy or a Montana rancher, so I imagined, rather than a native Californian. Kathryne and I were in Milan on the first anniversary of my mother’s death, and she came with me into the Duomo where I lit a votive candle to mark my mother’s yahrzeit. She applauded the mixing up of religious rites, not a follower of any faith herself.


Kathryne had arranged through her Poundian network to rent a flat in Milan for three weeks. The entrance was inside a courtyard accessible with a key, and each morning we heard vendors hawking bread and vegetables. We also heard plates smashing from an upper window, lusty screaming punctuated by the crashes, emotions amplified. Feeling a creeping weight of something unspoken between Kathryne and me, I found amusing relief in these boisterous neighbors. With a meaning I still ponder, one day we accidentally locked ourselves in our flat and could not open our door.  After several hours together trying to figure out how we’d escape, we were able to explain through gestures our predicament to a neighbor in the courtyard. We dropped the key, useless from the inside, out the window, and the man liberated us.  I snapped a photo of him and his family, all beaming up at us, the silly Americans.  

Kathryne nicknamed the owner of our Milan flat ‘Bigfoot’ because she had enormous feet and a shoe fetish, her closets spilling over with more pairs than Imelda Marcos could have possessed. We happened upon her in a flea market in Milan one afternoon where she was caressing elegantly green-marbled, pointed shoes. We would see her again at The Schloss. During those few weeks we often roamed the Milan streets for shopping and soaking up the city sights.  There were boisterous crowds due to the World Cup, or Mondiale as Italians called it, matches played in stadiums around Italy including Milan.  The patriotic fever of World Cup fans was tangible, and military police with guns patrolled the city. Kathryne loved this, as she saw traces of the Italian fascism from Pound’s era.  

We dined out often.  Kathryne loved chatting with the waiters, and decided several were worth flirting with — no harm, with the two of us always together. Since I was no enthusiast, Kathryne would finish the wine she insisted I have at lunch and dinner. For my birthday celebration at a lavish restaurant Kathryne selected the most expensive wines—Pouilly Fuissé, which I liked, and a red which didn’t interest me enough to recall the label.  Kathryne was delighted with both and by the dessert, a special birthday torte. The bottles were empty, even though I’d finished only one glass. 

She was in high inebriated form that evening, as Italy played in the quarter-finals against Ireland. As we headed to the car, I said, ‘I’ll drive.’  ‘Oh no you won’t. Don’t you worry.’  We barely survived that terrifying ride through the midnight streets of the city, Kathryne racing, turning on a dime; I envisioned the flimsy rental careening into the cars parked helter skelter everywhere, our bodies, ejected from the crash, jumbled together in death. Clearly I had not drunk enough.  She always outdid me with the beers, cocktails, and upscale wines.  

From Milan, we made day trips to Lake Como and Portofino. When we parked in Bellagio, we locked our keys inside the car. As we waited for a mechanic to break the window to fetch the keys, we had lunch on a terrace overlooking Lake Como and decided to visit the luxury resort Villa d’Este after we had our wheels again.  Once there, we took photos of each other in the restroom, a medley of gold faucets and wall-to-wall mirrors, and more photos of each other in the splendid gardens. In one, Kathryne is lying on her back along a serpentine stoned path near the edge of the lake and smiling up at me. In another, I am inside a gazebo and nestled up to the marble bust of a Roman goddess, as I look pensively, maybe coquettishly, at Kathryne. We felt very fancy there even though we could only afford drinks at the bar after our self-guided tour of the grounds and deluxe toilets. When asked whether we were guests at Villa d’Este, Kathryne explained to a hotel employee that we were planning for next year, as if we were checking out honeymoon venues.

Toward the end of our Milan stay, we decided we needed a day on the coast before gearing up for our Schloss adventure in the Tyrol.  Kathryne drove us south to the Italian Riviera. When we stopped for lunch in one of the pastel-colored restaurants of Rapallo, Kathryne mentioned Pound had owned a house nearby overlooking the sea. We took our afternoon siesta on turquoise-cushioned, red metal lounges in Portofino, as we gazed at the Mediterranean. 

It was here Kathryne told me that the only time she’d felt sexually harassed and mistreated was by a woman friend. To my ears this was a cautionary tale, a warning that we were not to become lovers. Kathryne liked to parse the difference between relationship and relations.  She relayed to me how she had clarified for someone: ‘I have a relationship with Susan, not relations.’  

Sometimes I was thoroughly inside those moments with Kathryne, when we had been locked in our flat in Milan, locked out of our car in Bellagio, when we dined on pastas and panini and flirted with waiters, or when we trespassed on the Villa d’Este grounds. Other times, I felt set apart, a spectator to something unfolding beyond my control. My desires seemed just out of reach, like an alluring confection high up on a pantry shelf. I assumed Kathryne must have had the ladder, but I never asked. That afternoon in Portofino, she ordered a beer, smoked cigarettes, and took a photo of me on my lounge chair, rolled away from her and facing the sea, my back crisscrossed with the straps of my blue Speedo suit. I snapped a photo of Kathryne floating a few yards from the small crescent-shaped beach, face up, similar to her position in the Villa d’Este garden path, her arms now splayed in the water, an image that would haunt me later.


We left Milan and headed north to The Schloss. Kathryne steered us through passes with hairpin turns, roads where we sporadically encountered cows and goats and men with massive walking sticks and women and children in colorful dirndls. It seemed we were inside the pages of Heidi, as we made our way up to Brunnenburg.  

Built in the middle of the thirteenth century, the castle was remodeled seven centuries later by Boris de Rachewiltz, an Italian-Russian Egyptologist who married the daughter of Ezra Pound and his lover Olga Rudge, a young American concert violinist living in Paris. That summer Kathryne and I visited, Pound had been dead eighteen years, and The Schloss a memorial to him populated by his family and devotees of all sorts. Princess Mary de Rachewiltz presided over and catered to all including her mother, children, grandchildren, and the parade of Pound disciples. 

Kathryne and I arrived for lunch on the terrace at a long wooden table, filled with breads, cheese, meats, salads, and bottles of red wine. Behind us, the old stone wall of The Schloss was covered with vines, trellises with red, yellow, white blossoms spurting everywhere. Rudge sat at one end of the table, wielding her cane like a poker for emphasis when she spoke, and Mary at the other end, closer to the castle threshold she crossed often, ferrying plates of food.  

The writer Carolyn See described Princess Mary as the consummate host with “hugs and hospitality” for all, exuding the maternal warmth she experienced in early childhood, not from her mother, but from the Italian woman in the Tyrol who cared for her. Pound believed that motherhood ruined women artists, so better that someone else tended to the child while Rudge pursued her career as a violinist. He was also invisible to Mary as a child; he was married to and lived with Dorothy Shakespear and their son Omar, born a year after Mary’s birth. 

During our visit Mary was in her sixties, and Rudge ninety-five.  Six years after that summer luncheon Rudge would die, and be buried next to Pound in a Venetian island cemetery. Also at table were Mary’s two children: Patrizia, who became a confessional poet, and Siegfried, like his mother, devoted to the Pound industry.  

I was a cabbage among the Poundians and the Pounds, an eavesdropper on their talk of translations and reviews, new editions and monographs. Silently, I marveled that people could still bask in the afterglow of the famous fascist poet who had abused and betrayed so many, including two people at lunch. The hilarity of all this for Kathryne somehow escaped me. I felt uneasy to see her enjoying their company while telling me off-site that they were all a bunch of motherfucking losers, especially for their deluded praise of Pound. Even if his linguistic innovations were worth her attention, he was a wretched excuse for a human, she exclaimed. How could she have it both ways? Wasn’t that duplicity her way with me too? We had a friendship skirting around a deeper intimacy, a relationship without relations, despite the innuendoes otherwise.

At the party that evening, I encountered Bigfoot, our  Milan landlady, along with her daughter. When I responded to the question about my Pound specialty with ‘Victorian literature,’ she surprised me by her response.

‘Oh, then you know the Rossettis. I am one.’ Her smooth chestnut hair made me see a resemblance, at least from Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s paintings of his sister Christina. I replied that I often taught the Pre-Raphaelites, paintings and poetry, and especially Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market,” on one level just a children’s fairy tale (as the poet insisted); on another, about dangerous appetites for exotic and poisonous fruits. The poem struck me as apt to the occasion, The Schloss scene, and to Kathryne and me.

‘Oh do you!’ the woman said when I mentioned I assigned her Pre-Raphaelite ancestor’s poem. ‘I have my great-aunt’s manuscript of that poem in my bank vault in Milan.’ 

‘Do you really!’ I exclaimed. ”It might be a good idea to transfer such a valuable document to the Special Collections of a reputable university.”  I recommended the University of Wisconsin, at which point her daughter piped up that she had lived in Wisconsin while working at the Johnson Wax headquarters in Racine. Unfortunately, that coincidence didn’t influence her mother’s guardianship of the poem, and I suspect the manuscript still languishes in that Milan bank vault where it was in 1990.


Soon we were on the road again, to West Germany for the last phases of our summer trip. We spent a couple of nights in Munich, where we dined with Kathryne’s friends, a feminist scholar and her husband. During the risotto dinner on their terrace, Kathryne’s friend turned to me and said, ‘Some of our best friends are Jewish.’ To hear this joke of a cliché addressed to me, Jewish on both sides all the way down, on my very first night in Germany, was ludicrous, but I just smiled uneasily, eager for the conversation to drift elsewhere. In Munich, Kathryne and I saw many signs pointing to Dachau, ten miles to the northwest. We decided not to visit. ‘The Nazi tourist industry, let’s take a pass.’ Then we were back in the car, bound for Berlin.

En route, at a roadside oasis as we sat in the car, I threw my cup of coffee at Kathryne. She had been attacking me with critical blows over my fussiness about smelling her lunch of a ham sandwich. It’s true I had wrinkled my nose as she unwrapped it and took a bite. Memory has lost hold of the fine details, the dazzling pirouettes of language with which she hammered me again and again. But I do remember that moment when I, the compliant sidekick, couldn’t muster any verbal reaction to her eloquent arsenal. Suddenly the coffee flew from my hands.  Then silence. She stopped her tirade, and stared at me for a long minute.

Stoking that moment were pent-up, perplexed feelings, and the teasing and tantalizing gestures she’d directed at me for a while. The weekend before we’d left for Europe, she had kissed me passionately in that most public and safest of places, Harvard Square, on an early summer Saturday evening. Nothing came of that kiss, and neither of us spoke about it. Ahead of us was a long trip during which we spent every single night together, always sharing a bedroom, sometimes a bed. Mixed up in all this was my mother and her death. She too had been a tease, offering love but not quite able to fully give it. Then there were Kathryne’s lapsed or otherwise dubious acquaintances. The Dutch woman at the Joyce conference, the sycophants at The Schloss, the Munich couple with their Jewish best friends. All motherfuckers this and that, in Kathryne’s ongoing critique, laced with anger, spiced with humor. But what was I, and what was I to her?

I had steeped in all this for weeks, but opportunities were dwindling, our summer together was running out. Kathryne was provocative and I was mute. All I could do was throw coffee at her. And then we were back on the Autobahn heading north, passing East German cars, Trabants spluttering along, others abandoned like crushed tin cans on the side of the highway. 


Our blue rental took us to visit my friend Sabine who lived with her partner Edgar in the Wedding area of West Berlin, then just barely West. We stayed in their spacious apartment of old European grandeur—high ceilings, ornate moldings, large doors. For breakfast Sabine assembled plates of cheeses, cold cuts, breads, jams, and pastries, a spread that outdid the terrace lunch at The Schloss. I’d met Sabine in graduate school in Boston when she was completing her doctorate in American literature and feminist theory after an unpleasant year at Duke. The students she met in Durham approached her with hostility. ‘I was accused of antisemitism as a German, but really, I never even met any Jews until I went to the US.’  

We talked and talked, or rather, they talked and I listened; Kathryne had plenty to say about Pound’s antisemitism and other forms of racism. While in what he called the ‘bughouse’ of St Elizabeth’s Hospital, saved from a death sentence for treason after he was deemed insane, Pound recommended to visitors and correspondents that they read Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Any visitor he disliked he claimed was Jewish, and added Black people to his list of low- grade humans. Kathryne’s first husband Mitchell was Jewish, her second husband Murray was Black. She deplored Pound’s racism, while she condemned others who turned away or found excuses–like Mary de Racheviltz, who said she did not recognize her father in the characterizations of him as an unrepentant bigot. To Kathryne, that was an example of unalloyed delusion. We visited Checkpoint Charlie, transitioning to a tourist museum. From a table of Soviet memorabilia, we rented a mallet so we could chip out a souvenir from the crumbling wall. A photo shows Kathryne at this vendor’s table where she’s smiling up at me with amused irony as she tries on a ushanka. Trains into East Berlin had just reopened, so we headed across the porous border to Alexanderplatz where we shopped in clothing stores with barren shelves, Soviet style. In another photo Kathryne holds up “West” brand cigarettes celebrating East Berlin’s emergence from its Iron Curtain. From Berlin it was back to Brussels, and the flight to Boston where Kathryne remained and I returned to Madison for the fall semester. 


Although I saw Kathryne many times in many cities after that, our lives each changed and we never spent weeks traveling together again. Still, our close “relationship” continued. We met occasionally in Chicago, a good midway point between Madison and Detroit, where she had taken a faculty position at Wayne State University. There was a rough patch when I began “relations” with Daniel whom I’d met at the university. I understood that Kathryne’s disparaging remarks–‘He’s barely an adult’ (he was ten years younger than I)–had to do with us, and next to nothing to do with Daniel. Once she and Murray got together, all that smoothed over. She came out to Madison from Detroit in 1992 to take care of me when my baby was born. She shopped, cooked, stored meals in the freezer, and did much the same before my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah a dozen years later.  

In December 1994 Daniel and I went to a celebration after Kathryne married Murray Jackson, a pillar of the old Detroit Black community, a member of the Board of Governors at Wayne State, and a poet whose last book of poems Kathryne edited and published after his death. At their wedding party, Kathryne’s hair was done up in a French twist, and she wore a bright red wool suit with black buttons, probably one of her Jaegers. She danced around, radiating happiness. There were a hundred people gathered that evening, families of both bride and groom, friends, colleagues, everyone enjoying jazz music and different cuisines from local Detroit restaurants. It was all joyous. Her parents had died, but her brother and his wife and her nephew were there, and seemed pleasant and pleased. 


Sitting in my office in the English Department in Madison I opened an email message on a Wednesday afternoon in December 2010, twenty years after Kathryne and I cavorted with the Poundians, sixteen years after the wedding party. Then I experienced my first and only panic attack. The message was from a colleague of Kathryne’s at Wayne State. She was sorry to tell me that Kathryne’s car had been found abandoned on the bridge to Belle Isle over the Detroit River. Because there was a blizzard that Monday, no one thought twice when Kathryne did not show up for her morning class. Patrollers who spotted the car assumed it was stuck in the snow and didn’t investigate. But on Tuesday, when neighbors heard Kathryne’s cats crying and when she did not return phone calls, someone went into her apartment, found only the hungry felines, and reported her missing to the police, who by then had discovered her purse and driver’s license in the car, the keys still in the ignition. There was a futile search in the frozen Detroit River. A friend tore through her apartment looking for Kathryne’s passport. Maybe, just maybe she had staged this exit to flee her life in Detroit to somewhere else in the world. But the passport was in the apartment. When the snow melted, someone found one of her shoes on the bridge.

Kathryne liked to say in tight or absurd situations, ‘Beam me up, Scotty.’ Feeling trapped, on the verge of panic, in my cubicle of an office, I wanted that Starship escape. A friend later asked me, ‘Why didn’t you just go home?’ The getaway I needed was from any reality of that news. I started to hyperventilate, and eventually to cry in ugly, jagged sobs. 

Dreaming of Kathryne during those days of raw grief, I encountered her in some unknown region, purgatory or the bardo, a shadowy place of spirits transitioning to another realm. I see her, and start in with a deluge of words of anger, amazement, urgency. ‘How could you do that? You know I would’ve, so many people, you were loved, why did you do that?’  Kathryne looks at me, as she had when I threw coffee at her, and acknowledges with her silent gaze my rage and, in this dream, my anguish because she has died.

Over the next weeks and months, the shock of suicide made gradual sense. Kathryne had suffered from physical ailments stemming from hepatitis in her teens. Someone thought she might have received a scary prognosis from a doctor recently. Others believed Kathryne never recovered from Murray’s death from brain cancer eight years earlier. A close friend of hers who’d first met Kathryne after Murray had died, told me, ‘She said Murray was the only person who loved her properly. Properly? What does that even mean? In the last few months she started to doubt even that.’ 

Unlike the friends who scoffed about the broken-heart explanation, I had a different view.  I knew Kathryne before Murray, during Murray, and after Murray: She was different in those Murray years. More anchored, less misery and pain crusting around her edgy brilliance.

In the summer of 1992 the four of us–Murray and Kathryne, Daniel and I–were driving back from a visit to Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright’s studio and school in Wisconsin. Kathryne was on a roll about how she wasn’t voting for that motherfucker Clinton, and if she voted at all, it would be for Nader. Murray replied, ‘Give it a rest, Kathryne. You’ll vote for Clinton because that’s the best option we have.’ It was hard to stop Kathryne’s momentum when on one of her impassioned political jags, but she paused, gave Murray a playful swat and an ambivalent threat, ‘Murray, now just you wait til we get home—‘ and then she was on to something else.  

Murray had written a poem about her which appeared in his posthumous volume Bobweaving Detroit. “KVL” shows that Murray got Kathryne, loved her ‘properly’:  

Spitting fire-hot pieces of light,
she suffers no shade,
reels on the edge of mosaic shards
in search of herself,
forging indelible shadows.


Seven months after her disappearance, Kathryne’s body was dredged from the Detroit River. For years whenever I flew east from Madison, connecting on Delta in Detroit, I’d look out at the MacArthur Bridge, searching for some semblance of her. She’d taken me to Belle Isle not long after she’d arrived in Detroit. An idyllic spot in the Motor City, Belle Isle was the location of  the 1943 Race Riots; this too Kathryne told me. 

In September 2011 the English Department at Wayne State held a “Tribute to the Life” of Kathryne. I was one of twenty-three  speakers and the only person to say the word ‘suicide,’ someone remarked to me afterwards.

I did not use the word directly to describe Kathryne’s fatal leap. Instead, I quoted Kathryne. Two years earlier my young cousin Emma had died by suicide. In that aftermath, we had many lengthy conversations as Kathryne expressed anger about how selfish this ultimate act was, the devastating effects on Emma’s parents, brother, and grandmother, all of whom Kathryne knew. She also met me for two memorial tributes to Emma, one in New York in 2009, another in Chicago in 2010, the last time I saw Kathryne. 

At the Detroit event for Kathryne, I read aloud excerpts from the emails she’d sent me in the weeks following Emma’s death. One included the full text of Christina Rossetti’s sonnet “Rest” which opens with:

O, EARTH, lie heavily upon her eyes;
Seal her sweet eyes weary of watching, Earth.  

And then I read these words Kathryne had written to me:

The violence of suicide is profound, and it shakes survivors to their souls.

I wish there were something one could do about this latest death, or any of them, and it is a long list. But, baby, there is not.      

Could you stop the track to tell her, all the mothers that were daughters and the others who stopped there? Something like, like you know, like this: here, listen, girl friend; listen here. It is the morning, the morning, the morning. Before the Pre-Raphaelites, even it is the morning that is coming, coming through repetition to Eternity. Morning, that it is. Morning was coming: that morning will have come and gone–despite her turning away; morning, defiant in the face of our mourning.

‘And then,’ again begins that wily mother-ducking motherfucker, and continues unperturbed to tap his Hallmark Orpheus, ‘went down to the sea.’

When I’d relayed how much Kathryne had consoled me after Emma’s death, a friend commented, ‘Maybe she was too preoccupied with suicide.’ That wasn’t news to me. Kathryne had told me years before that a day didn’t go by when she didn’t make the conscious decision to live instead of die. And this from a letter she wrote to me in 1991, when she was on the verge of her “relations” with Murray:

Death is death. It is the only is there is. It no longer and in no way belongs to the person who is–let alone the who watches–it.  We know this. That is useless information, for we must, after all, just go on with breakfast, with the delights of the kitchen and the bedroom. Death affects nothing. Death effects a change, somehow, of mode.  Marriage á la mode.


Near the end of her life, Kathryne had long turned from Pound to reading and writing about Bob Kaufman, the American Beat poet whose many years in North Beach appealed to Kathryne’s San Francisco roots. Kaufman, both Black and Jewish, was part of the Beat movement with Allen Ginsberg where they read poems at the Co-Existence Bagel Shop. Some lines in Kaufman’s poetry make me think of my adventures with Kathryne: “Heroin nights of birth/and soaring/over boppy new ground” (“Walking Parker Home”).

In Billy Woodberry’s 2015 documentary on Kaufman, “And When I Die, I Won’t Stay Dead,” two brief clips of Kathryne appear late in the film. She’s wearing tortoiseshell narrow-framed glasses; a large tabby cat, its colors echoing Kathryne’s glasses, hovers on the edge of the screen on her table. I recognized her voice, the eyeglasses, the objects in the background, likely her apartment. But it was her gesture that caught me off-guard: to see her hand again, with her long, narrow fingers, making a rounded, quick slice as she speaks, sounding both wise and sorrowful. As the camera catches her gaze and she leans left, she comments that Kaufman was constantly writing about “death, death, death,” and then pauses a beat, and reflects, “It’s a kind of despair that nonetheless carries one on.” Kathryne’s despair carried her on, until it couldn’t anymore.


 The highpoint for visitors to The Schloss was time in the sanctuary of sanctuaries: Pound’s study. Kathryne and I entered the shrine, the poet’s desk as if he had left it momentarily, encircled by views of the Tyrolian Alps through the arched windows, the goldenrod yellow curtains pulled aside. There were two levels—the balcony around the curving walls lined with bookcases and windows, and the floor of the study, the desk with a white retractable lamp, letters, assorted writing implements, a row of books, and above the desk, a portrait of Pound in stride.  In Reading Pound Reading, Kathryne cautions, “I have for the most part avoided the Poundians–especially since they tend to devalue the very texts important to my assessment of Pound’s own style of reading.” She was no apologist, no fanatic; she was all about Pound’s linguistically brilliant iconoclasms. As she wrote of Pound, she blasted her speech and writing with “rhizomatic (that is, weedlike, asystematic, antihierarchical) thinking.” Whether speaking or writing, her word tangles of sharp erudition and puns were like an opera on speed, liberally punctuated with ‘motherfucker’ this and that. Yet standing there that summer day in 1990 at Schloss Brunnenburg in front of Pound’s desk, she was all aflame with the rascally joy of our infiltration among the Poundians. And I’m there too, looking with delight at Kathryne, radiant on the other side of my camera lens.

Kathryne V. Lindberg

Kathryne V. Lindberg, Castle Brunnenburg, Summer 1990

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