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Denise Duhamel & Julie Marie Wade

PMS 14 | 2015

{a collaborative essay}


When I was twenty, I went to Dylan Thomas’s green grave in Laugharne, Wales. I’d chosen to study abroad in Cymru specifically so I could visit St. Martin’s graveyard. Thomas died when he was only thirty-nine, which seemed old to me then, but young to me now. I slipped on the moss visiting the nearby boathouse where he wrote poetry.

Wales was the greenest place I’d ever been, as it was always drizzling that spring. Every hill glistened — like his “Fern Hill” — almost neon, against the white sheep that outnumbered people.

You could say I was green as I boarded my first plane, an international flight. I carried travelers checks that I would deposit in a bank in Carmarthen so I could take out pounds, bills that fascinated me because they weren’t green like ours. My Uncle Will had helped me fund my study. He was “green” before the Green Party, trading in his truck for a moped. He was sure we were going to run out of oil, or ruin the planet trying to get at it. Chlorophyll content, what made green leaves green, was reduced in polluted areas. We needed plant life, he’d say to anyone who’d listen. We breathed in oxygen, breathed out carbon dioxide. Plants took in carbon dioxide and put out oxygen.

Or as Thomas wrote,

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower / Drives my green age. And Time held me green and dying / Though I sang in my chains like the sea.

When I was twenty, I traveled abroad for the first time. I left the lush bounty of the Evergreen State, traded the gleam and glow of a West Coast city for the grit and stench of a time-worn metropolis.

“Why London?” my host-mother asked. And because I wanted her to think well of me, I quipped that I came for the fog.

“No, really —” she said, pouring our tea and peering at me with her curious, olive eyes.

Because I could only answer in partial truths, I told her, “I came for the poets.”


“Yes,” I said—“but Blake especially.”

She handed me a saucer and a chocolate bikkie. “You’ll have to remind me about him.”

“He was a visionary. Lived and died in London, largely unrecognized in his lifetime, buried now in Bun Hill Fields.”

“I expect you’ll be going there then?”

I nodded. What I wanted to say was, Like Blake, they don’t understand me at home. Unlike Blake, I have made myself unwelcome there. I know I will not end where I began, but I cannot imagine where I will go from here

When I arrived at his grave, I knelt near the stone. Picnickers spread their checkered cloths. Children played rugby on the rocky ground, rooted through patches of grass for four-leaf clovers. I made a wish I wouldn’t tell, and Blake’s words came to me: Such were the joys / When we all, girls and boys, / In our youth-time were seen / On the echoing green.


Truth be told, I went to the green hills of Wales to escape small town life. Why are you going all the way over there to study English, Deborah asked, when you can learn English right here? Suzanne was even more confused — Wales? Like Shamu? Shamu was a mammal, not a country, but what was the point of explaining? I was sure I was superior to my friends who were content to become moms who’d read Green Eggs and Ham to their kids every night. I wanted to be worldly, whatever that meant. I felt boxed in, not unlike Shamu, who threw off the human who rode her for the crowd at Seaworld, then grabbed her leg so hard the orca’s jaws had to be pried open with a pole. Sure as God made little green apples, I was going to make something of my life, make the mean girls who tortured me in high school green with envy.

In Wales, I dyed my hair green with Jell-o, a trick I learned from the Welsh punk kids who wore Doc Martens. I kissed a boy from Cardiff — I gave him the green light, even though I had a boyfriend at home. Maybe I was hoping that my small town sweetheart would become a green-eyed monster when I came back to confess, but he had kissed someone too — an ordinary American — which made us even. So I decided to escape again. Sometimes, on the other side, the grass was indeed greener.


I always had the feeling I was outside, looking in, the real world of hijinks and heartbreak unfolding right in front of me — on the other side of a two-way mirror.

“A bunch of us are going to Dublin for St. Patrick’s Day,” my hostsister said. This was not an invitation to join them. “Would you mind watering my plants?” she asked, gesturing to our windowsill.

While she was away, Tina’s boyfriend sent a box of key limes from Florida. “Love you, Babe,” the card read. I discovered a channel that played nostalgic American television and became briefly addicted to Green Acres — the humorous spin on displacement, the strange comfort of canned laughter. I read The End of the Affair by Graham Greene and wept openly in Paddington station.

As March was going out like a lamb, I flew to Ireland and spent a day hiking the rolling green hills of Bray. In town, I found a two-screen cinema showing American Beauty and The Green Mile. I chose the movie with roses on the poster, romantic as I was. Afterwards, I drank a summery Pimm’s at the local pub, garnished with cucumber and mint. I chatted with girls I met at the hostel.

“Green genes?” a young man asked, raising his pint in greeting. Then, to clarify: “Are ya Irish?”

“I wish,” I smiled, admiring the pretty freckles on his hands.

Before he left, he kissed my cheek. “Here’s hopin’ you have the rub of the green just the same.”


When I moved to New York, St. Paddy’s was my least favorite holiday. Green beer. Splotches of green puke in the streets. For a time I lived on West 23rd, right across from the Chelsea Hotel where Dylan Thomas spent his last days before dying in St. Vincent’s Hospital. He was green around the gills from binge drinking and conducting an affair with his host’s assistant. When his wife Caitlin flew in from Wales to say her goodbyes, she came to his bedside in a drunken rage, threatening to kill John Brinnin, the poet who’d invited her husband to America for this reading tour. She was forced into a straitjacket and committed to a private psychiatric clinic on Long Island.

I’d had enough of drinking and started to hate it. I still loved Thomas but, by now, loved New York City more than any verdant hills. I’d started reading Frank O’Hara — I can’t even enjoy a blade of grass unless I know there’s a subway handy, or a record store or some other sign that people do not totally regret life. I quoted him whenever anyone asked how I could live in such a tiny, noisy hellhole. Or how I put up with soot, violence, trash, or rats. O’Hara would die young, too — only forty, after being run over by a dune buggy on Fire Island. I wonder if his spirit still exists, and, if so, what he would say about the lush lawn above him in Green River Cemetery.


Back in the States, I lived in a place called Parkland where there were no parks, just a small university in a neighborhood deeply weatherworn. Greenery inevitable in the Pacific Northwest, but oh how I longed for the moody seasons, the trees deciduous as my heart.

Wednesday nights we met for seminar, performed our taut analyses of Eliot and Levertov — those poets so important two countries came forth to claim them. Frost was to me then the quintessential American. He said, “Nature’s first green is gold,” and I believed him. We were green as grass, my friends and I, but oh how we longed to be golden!

St. Patrick’s Day, 1999. Emerald City-bound in Kara’s Volvo station wagon. Green Day’s “Time of Your Life” blaring on the radio. Then: Pistachio brûlée at Dilettante Chocolates, three ramekins heating over a flame. Then: Transvestites in chartreuse boas and shamrock heels stumbling through the door of Twice Sold Tales. Slogan on a pear-shaped shingle: We’re open if you are.

“Where do you think we’ll be ten years from now?” Kirsten wanted to know. It was midnight in Pike Place Market, tomorrow already on the cobblestone roads.

“In the green room,” I grinned, “after reading to a sold-out crowd.”

We were sleepy. We rubbed our faces and smeared the glitter around our eyes. We wrote our names with jade Sharpie on the jumbled, graffiti wall. We toasted “spring” and “Frost” and “greener pastures.” Then dawn went down to day. And nothing gold could stay.


Growing up in New England, I’d seen Frost’s birches. Those brief gold bursts before the leaves turn green, like pre-innocence, pre-spring. I only recently learned that green bell peppers — I never liked their bitter flavor — are simply unripe red ones, which I adore. I always spend the extra money on yellow or orange or red and eat no peppers at all if I can only afford green. Their taste reminds me of the hard little pears I picked from a neighbor’s tree when I was a kid, pears which led to a stomachache and my confession of trespassing.

The bell pepper is the only pepper that doesn’t produce capsaicin, the chemical that stimulates pain receptors in the mouth, making green chili peppers, jalapenos, and pepperoncini taste hot. The burning sensation, raising a diner’s heart rate, is also an aphrodisiac.

In Edward Weston’s Pepper No. 30, a gelatin silver print, I saw an athlete sitting, his back to the camera, his brawn puffing from each side of his spine, sinewy all the way up to his shoulders and arms: trapezius, deltoid, pectoralis major, his hands in boxing gloves resting on top of his head. Weston would have been frustrated with me as he was frustrated with all the analyses of his peppers during his lifetime, saying, In them has been found vulvas, penises or combinations, sexual intercourse, Madonna with child, wrestlers, modern sculpture, African carving, ad nauseam! It’s nothing but a mild bell pepper, he insisted, a pepper that is green.


Growing up in the ’80s and ’90s, my favorite place to travel was Back in Time. I hiked the verdant Alps with the Von Trapp family and rode the streetcars around St. Louis the year they hosted the World’s Fair. Once I saw Thoroughly Modern Millie, I turned perpetual flapper for Halloween. I liked the bobbed hair and the beads, the jitterbug and the tapioca. But most of all, I was smitten with this scene:

Muzzy, with her vast smile and raspy voice, tells Millie how she set out to marry for love, not money: “Mr. Van H., he gave me this great big old green glass brooch. And I lent it to my girlfriend one night so she could impress a new beau. Well, […] the new beau turned out to be a jeweler! And the green glass brooch turned out to be emeralds.” Her poor fiancé was actually a multi-millionaire, but Muzzy wouldn’t let his green go to her head. “While I truly do prefer emeralds,” she says, “we could have made it on green glass.”

I bought a green ashtray at a yard sale to remind me of the metaphor. I burned the names of boys I liked and kept the ashes. For girls I liked, I never even wrote the names down. Love, I reasoned, was going to be tricky — costume or otherwise. At fourteen, I was still looking for a bracelet that wouldn’t turn my wrist green every time I got caught in the rain.


I too always felt more akin to the past, as it was buttoned down, and everyone knew how to think about it. Captain Kangaroo’s sidekick Mr. Green Jeans sometimes turned into “The New Old Folk Singer,” hoisting his sousaphone onto his lap, then strumming it as though it were a guitar. Mr. Green Jeans loved nature — the katydid and lizard, the frog and turtle. Once, on set, after a tiger bit him, he put his hand into his overalls’ pocket until the skit was done. Captain Kangaroo was broadcast in black and white, but I never doubted for a minute that Mr. Green Jeans wore green.

This is not to privilege the past of my childhood with its avocado appliances, lime green shag carpets, and green bean casseroles with French’s canned fried onions sprinkled on top. When I was in that past, the 1970s were the present so I wound up obsessed with the sock hops of my mother’s 1950s, teal poodle skirts with turquoise sequins.

This is just to say that sometimes I have felt as though I was performing before a green screen, projecting an idealized past upon it. Before I found poetry, I had my cousin’s record player, the psychedelic Lemon Pipers — Now listen while I play my green tambourine. Before I found Dylan Thomas, I found poetry where I could, Richard Harris’s surreal mixed metaphor —

MacArthur’s Park is melting in the dark. All the sweet, green icing flowing down. Someone left the cake out in the rain...

For me, it was Mister Rogers, not Mr. Green Jeans. I wanted a closet full of sneakers, a cardigan in every color. I wanted the kind of neighbor who never said, “A hedge between keeps the friendship green.”

Instead of Captain Kangaroo, there was Oscar the Grouch in his dented can, Jim Henson and his menagerie of Muppets. I must have loved Kermit best when he sang “It’s not easy being green,” a sad ballad that laments how “people tend to pass you over...”

It seems in retrospect my childhood was minted green. My mother with her green thumb: the ferns and jade plants spilling from their boxes. My father, his green and generous heart: “wick” as the untended shrubs in The Secret Garden. A row of poisons under the sink — Cascade for the dishwasher, Comet for the tub — each marked with a Mr. Yuk sticker.

On television, the daily parade of green products: Jolly Green Giant vegetables, Pert Plus 2-in-1 conditioning shampoo, twins in shiny honeydew swimsuits with two sticks of Doublemint gum.

On holidays, we ate Jell-o salad known simply as “the green stuff.” I couldn’t get enough. I loved pickles, too — the salty bite of the brine.

In school, we learned the riddle of the Magic Green Door: puppies can go through, but dogs can’t... The pleasing answer was that only words with double letters could pass.

Then, the great riddle of my life began: Once Dorothy leaves the Emerald City, will she — can she — ever go back?

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