The Frozen Room
What happened to Weldon Kees? Maybe one of the most handsome of the Beat poets, certainly the most mysterious, and someone I think about enough that I titled a poem with his name in my last book, Love and Other Poems.
I also used to think about him a lot when I first taught a seminar on the New York School and the San Francisco Renaissance at Columbia University in the spring of 2017. Although I didn’t include him on the syllabus because—well—I wasn’t sure where he fit. I wasn’t sure about him at all. Who was he?
Born in Nebraska (a state I’ve never been to and a great Springsteen record), with a stint in New York, some time in Provincetown, he finally headed out west in the early 1950s, wrote poems, divorced his wife, and had several intense and abruptly short affairs with women.
Until in July, 1955, his car was found in Marin County, near the Golden Gate Bridge. His body was not there. The car was a 1954 Plymouth Savoy. There were red socks in the sink of his apartment.
Kees had talked about trying to jump off the Golden Gate to friends at times (a difficult bridge to jump off of for many logistical reasons; one being physical strength), but he had also talked about moving to Latin America and starting a new life there. Something we’ve all probably considered. Whether it’s Latin America, or this month—January—another time I think of Kees since he has a line that captivates me: “at the end of the frozen room.”
Isn’t that where it feels like we are? Isn’t that where we’re all headed anyway?
I liked that line so much that I stole it and put it in one of my poems.
And sometimes when I’m in Miami (though it’s certainly not Latin America) for short stints during the New York winters, I think of Kees by the pool at The Standard, where I read him and look at his face (and it was a beautiful face), high on Xanax and the sun. Closing the door to the frozen room inside me because that frozen room is too easy to stay in. No matter what time of year it is. No matter how irretrievable things feel.
Open the windows. Open the doors.
Fuck the frozen room.
AD | NYC | January 2024
P.S. About a year from now I’ll have a new book of poems called Ecstasy with Knopf. And some time after that hopefully will finish something on love, cruelty, and deception. Thanks for hanging around. I’ll be writing more here.