On the internet I stumble upon the obituary of an old friend and mentor, Carroll F. Terrell, or “Terry” as he preferred. He died in 2003, in his eighty-seventh year. I remember at the time hearing the sad news. That was long ago. But running into his obituary just now in cyberspace still delivers a potent shock, in the same way I sometimes forget my own father is dead—nearly six years now—but then remember. It leaves me feeling somehow dispossessed, as if evicted from ordinary time.
Terry was born and raised in Maine. He went to Bowdoin College and served as a captain in the army during World War II. When he returned he pursued a couple of advanced degrees in English and became a professor at the University of Maine, where he founded the National Poetry Foundation. There in the early eighties I worked for him as a graduate research assistant. He told me what authors to read and what languages I should learn. He was always sending me over to the library to track down references and check footnotes for a big important book he was working on about Ezra Pound. He would regularly dispatch me to the airport to pick up visiting writers. One time I accompanied him to Northeast Harbor to pay a call on the novelist Marguerite Yourcenar. She served us tea in her backyard. The last time I saw Terry was in the late nineties. I was back in Maine for a visit and ran into him in the hallway outside his offices, which is where one often found him. He was smiling and kinetic as ever, though visibly aging. He gave me a memoir he had written.
I see from the internet obituary that Terry is buried in the small Kennebec Valley town he grew up in. I’ve never been there. So I log on to Google Earth and visit Dresden, Maine. After that I head over to Find-a-Grave and locate a photo someone has posted of Terry’s gravestone in Forest Hill Cemetery. All these images found on the internet look as if taken in July or August. When it comes to digital simulacra, Maine is truly a Summerland.
Not so outside my window here in the Catskill Mountains. The snow is deep and the wind cold. Thus it would appear that whatever gap stands between visiting a friend’s gravesite via the internet versus getting into the car and making the long journey to a Maine burial ground and wading through its trackless drifts and digging down into the snowy strata of a lengthy winter to arrive at last at the modest granite marker, is considerably less formidable than the gap that prevails between “now” and “then.” The past, I must conclude, is nowhere. I have never been there. Nobody has. You can’t get there from here, even on the internet.