Chillin’ at the Holiday Inn



Hayden Carruth in the forties.

A letter from Hayden Carruth to Jane Kenyon, dated April 29, 1994. When Kenyon was dying of leukemia, Carruth wrote her almost daily, though he knew she was unable to respond. His correspondence is collected in Letters to Jane. Carruth, born on August 3, 1921, published poems in three issues of The Paris Review; he died in 2008.

Dear Jane,

I’m in the waiting area at the Washington National Airport with another hour before boarding for my flight to Syracuse. I hate this place, I hate it. Hatred has not been a prominent factor in my life, but in this particular place at this particular time it is. The weather here is INTOLERABLE, hot, hot, hot, and coming from Upstate New York I’m not dressed for it, wearing my faithful tweed jacket that I customarily use for readings. And I’ve had three glasses of house chardonnay in one of those little cubicles off the waiting area, the only place where one is permitted to smoke …

Well, I’ll insert a “poem” I wrote while I was having my coffee and so-called croissant:


Holiday Inn, Washington, D.C.

This is not where the rich and famous pursue their lifestyles.

This is exactly like the Holiday Inn in Troy, N.Y. where I stayed recently.

It is near enough to exactly like the Holiday Inn where I stayed in Tucson,

In Casper, in Chillicothe, in Opelika, in Portsmouth, in Bellingham, etc.

A mirror in a fake gilt frame, brass bed-lamps attached to the walls by hinges.

“Fax Your Urgent Documents To or From This Holiday Inn Hotel.”

From time to time the smoke alarm goes off for no reason. Eeeeeeeeeee!

Thumps on the door, an anxious black lady. “Are you all right in there, sir?”

I climb up on a brocaded chair and disconnect the smoke alarm ruthlessly.

Meanwhile the rich and famous are pursuing their lifestyles two blocks away

In their cute four-story federal brick houses with porticoes and flagstone steps.

Fucking each other’s wives in the dens and laundry rooms and pantries.

This is called a party. Some are Democrats, some Republicans, all are fuckers.

They are emboldened by bourbon and vodka and the anticipation of power,

Tomorrow they will arise hungover and wield the resources of the nation.

Sweetheart, it’s a long way from home, miles and miles from your warm bed.

Melodiously at the door: “Are you all right, sir? Are you all right in there?”

No literature, whatever that is. A mess of words analogous to a mess of feeling.

Well, my dear, why am I complaining to you? Is complaint the endless, relentless motif of our time? Can I imagine a poem or a symphony entirely devoted to joyousness and exaltation, like those of the 19th century? No, I cannot. Taking into account my own innate pessimism, I still cannot imagine it.