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Great Salutations 


Denis Mair to Suzanne Lummis

With Memories of the late poet Edward Smith


Edward Smith was a casualty of this past winterís flu epidemic.  He and poet Charles Potts, owner of The Temple Bookstore and principal organizer of literary events in Walla Walla, had been comrades in art and life 23 ago. They re-discovered each other just before Edwardís sudden death.


1/17/04 2:12:42 p.m.


Hello Suzanne,


It must have been difficult for Charles, to regain a friendship after so long, and then see it swept away again. Friday night at our poetry party was a moving evening: Charles had just picked up his long-lost friend at the airport, and three hours later he read before a hundred people, all of whom he knew!


In the months before the Party, Charles and Edward had marathon telephone conversations. I used to go down to the bookstore, and I often found Charles on the phone. I could always tell when he was talking with Edward: the words tumbled freely and the tone was suited to people who understand each other. The two of them squeezed a lot of talk into those afternoons, as if sensing there was hardly time to exchange what needed to be exchanged. This stitching together of sympathies is what people like Charles and Edward stand for.


I exchanged a few good e-mails with Edward. He sent me an interpretation of a couple of Su Dongpo poems. I wish I had kept it. He showed fine appreciation for balances of stillness and motion, light and shade across lines in the poems he discussed. These are aesthetic categories that Chinese literary critics key into, and he got the feel through his own reading.


I was down in L.A. for a couple of weeks, and I helped shelve books at a reading room in Chinatown.  That was during the holidays, so I didn't get in touch with you. I did get together with Richard Modiano and watched a movie with him. Richard gave me a presentóthe anthology of California poetry put out by Five Penny Press [Tebot Bach].


I'm house-sitting outside of Olympia, Washington now.  Iím settled in a round house, shaped like a yurt, with big windows overlooking Oyster Bay. Every morning I go walking along the shore of an inlet with two dogs. As the sun breaks through, the morning mist hangs in strata against a backdrop of hills. For once Iím in a place where I canít hear highway sounds!


My duties as house sitter are mainly to feed and walk the dogs. At low tide I walk down the hillside and down a flight of wooden stairs to the beach. At high tide there is no beach to walk on. This morning I started down to the stairs at high tide, to play a joke on the dogs. The hound barked at me crazily, as if to say, "You shouldnít walk down the stairs at high tide!"


There are beautiful cats here. One of them looks like a long-haired miniature lion. It climbs an 8-foot perpendicular ladder into a cupola and sits up there gazing out over the bay! There is also a feral cat that was caught by the house-owner. It has long ghostly gray fur with black paws and black muzzle. It is now living like a hermit in the study. When people go in that room, it dives beneath a blanket. When I climb to my loft above the study and settle down, it comes out to play with a toy mouse. If I sit still and read, I can watch it play, but if I make the slightest move, it hides under the recliner again.


I view the pet-watching as my responsibility in exchange for rent. But the critters have their winning ways, and I find myself standing at the doorway at nightfall, hoping the little lion will get back safely.



Denis Mair


Read Charles Potts' memorial essay on Edward Smith

Denis Mair has worked as a translator in Beijing and studied for years in a temple belonging to Tiandi Jiao, a Daoist-Confucian religious group in Taiwan.  His translations from Chinese include memoirs by the Buddhist monk Shih Chen-hua, an autobiography by the philosopher Feng Youlan and fiction by Chinaís former Minister of Culture Wang Meng.  He has served as a poet-in-residence at the Temple Bookstore in Walla Walla, Washington.  His book, Man Cut in Wood, was published by Valley Contemporary Poets. Read more by Denis Mair at www.appositive.net/oysterbay.