Katherine Anne Porter Remembers Village Characters


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September 11, 1957, Vol. II, No. 46

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Two Legends Come to Life

By Katherine Anne Porter

Romany Marie’s charming rosy-edged reminiscences which you published lately, and your notice of Joe Gould’s death in a mental hospital, remind me of two strange episodes that have stayed in my memory 30 years or a little less.

In the early ’20’s and on I spent a great deal of time in Mexico, and when I was in Greenwich Village I took very little part in the goings-on there. Everybody I knew, however, knew Romany Marie, her series of wonderful places where you saw simply everybody from all over the world, the warmth of her heart and the goodness of her coffee…I met her in the country at a kind of boarding farm where writers and artists went in the summer, when I was trying to do some work. But it wasn’t much more quiet than in town, for a writer named Leonard Cline, who wrote glib high-voltage novels, was quite mad, drunken and impossible to quell or shake off when he went on the rampage, which was every night and often every day as well…

[Romany Marie] was a swarthy, weathered, beautiful woman in early middle life, calm and smiling and wearing her gypsy clothes as if she were born to the pattern, though everybody knew she was no gypsy, she said so herself. She just liked the idea of gypsies and decided to look like one.

She lent color and a kind of reality to the vaguely formless existence of the farm, and in the evening we all built a fire and sat around it singing, believe it or not, until Leonard Cline got off on his mad high horse, when we scattered and Romany Marie came to my place, the ice house, to spend the night. I barred the doors and put out the lights, and Leonard Cline careered and howled around the place, and beat on the doors demanding that we let him in, for a wearisome while. Romany Marie listened to the din in perfect calmness, but I was quite exhausted after several hours of it; and she suggested that while Cline was beating on the front door, we should take our cot mattresses, thin little rags they were, out the back door, and take refuge in the woods up the hill…

This must have been in 1926 or ’27: I went later to Bermuda, back to Mexico, and on to Europe, and didn’t see her for nearly 10 years. But when I went back, with another old friend of hers, she remembered instantly, and we talked again about our flight to the woods, and Romany Marie said, with the transfiguring power of her memory: “Oh, weren’t we like two nymphs pursued by a satyr?”

…Some time afterward, Leonard Cline murdered his best friend with a shotgun in a country house after a night of furious drunken brawling. And a good while later, he was found dead in his bed. There was always the feel of death in the air where he was…

And then, Joe Gould! I did not know him, only by sight, and the sight was always a sad one…everyone seemed to realize there was nothing anyone could do for him…

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