Routine Repairs & Earth & Dust

A letter by Denise Levertov to William Carlos Williams. Levertov, born in Britain, emigrated to the United States in 1948, and became a citizen in 1955 at the age of 32. She subsequently lived in Mexico for two years before moving back to New York with her husband and young son. She and Williams shared a correspondence lasting from 1951 to 1962. Any resemblance to real people is purely intentional. 

Calle Crespo No. 19
Oaxaca, Oax., Mexico
November 24th [1957]

Image: “House of Birds,” Incidents of Travel in Yucatan, by John L. Stephens. 1843. NYPL.

Dear Bill,

            The construction began at a more reasonable hour today, 8 o’clock instead of the usual 6:30. That 2 rooms & a kitchen could be in this much of a muddle! There was a fault in the plumbing they didn’t catch until there was plaster over it. Now they have to start all over or moldy pipes & burnt wires will overrun us. One of the workers pretends politely to heed my wish that he not smoke in the house, but starts back up again before I’ve even left the room. A stink clings to the cushions. Of course we feel no joy with the house this way. Mitch is still in N.Y. & so spared. I’m trying to manage & doing reasonably well alone—I don’t begrudge him being gone, he suffered quietly for long enough.

            With the house fixed up I’m trying to find time to sit & write. The house is draughty this time of year but I cloak a few thick & heavy blankets around me into a pile of meagre warmth. What is it you’re keen to say? The final problem is to write WELL, and nothing else can matter!

            Mitch sent word that the painter friend who tried to slit her wrists is still resting, her painter husband’s mother now taking care of their 2 young children. This is that old N.Y. dread—the frenetic running, the bleak refrigerator contents, no TIME for deep thinking or seeing friends, et. etc.—& that dread hasn’t died down yet. Does being an American dampen financial anxiety or inflame it? I still don’t have an answer. In my own childhood, if we were lacking in a fundamental way my parents were not wont to carry on about it. But I’m nothing like my father in scholarly & clerical devotion to duty, nor my mother in (exceeding) innocence.

            Ventured into a nearby village to tap into a feeling of beauty in the environment, but I was quickly ashamed by my lack of desire to be there. Town was quite dead. & no poets at the cafés—only ONE café—and no art to speak of. I stopped by a stall to eat a little but couldn’t muster enough hunger. Food has become unappetizing and predictable.

            The antagonising part of being so far away is the lack of spirit in things, as though the center of a tornado has failed to pull one into its grasp. I shall like to leave this limbo behind for awhile, get back in & seize it.

Love from

How was your birthday? My love to Floss—D.