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"Pardon His Dust": A Commentary

By Tom Dodge

Dallas, TX – W. K. Hill, other than being the world's worst poet, carried the lesser title of most persistently pestiferous man on campus. All faculty members, administrators too, seeing him coming, armed with his poetry, held their skirts and fled. When W.K. was known to be in the area, wary mortarboardsmen ventured outside their offices only for emergencies, fearing one of these dread poetic encounters. Having to stop and listen to one of his poems, in which the English language has received the literary punishment equivalent to a night in bed with Mike Tyson, was above and beyond any humanitarian duty called for by contract or conscience. Faced with the threat of having to endure one of W. K.'s literary stink bombs, I often pondered the virtues of a life at sea, the French Foreign Legion, or even the Witness Protection Agency. And I was one of his supporters.Getting rid of him was next to impossible. He respected us but not our misguided appraisal of what he considered his immortal talent. He wanted desperately to save us from poetic benightedness. He even set up residence in a friendly professor's office, pounding out these calamities. Getting him out of there became an all-consuming project for the hapless professor. This failing aside, W. K. was a good student, respectful to others, and he wanted to be a writer more than anyone I ever knew. He was 67 and virtually homeless, but he managed to finish college and was enrolled in graduate school when he died. His lifelong love for literature was exceeded only by his passion for cigarettes.

So I went over to a secret place on campus to meet with four other supporters for a scattering of W. K.'s ashes. Dr. Geoffrey Grimes, he of the invaded office, now recipient of the ashes, read one of W. K.'s more intelligible poems. Then we watched as this professor, beleaguered in life by W. K., struggled helplessly to open the copper box and release the ashes to the elements.

It was sealed shut. The key to opening it was as arcane as the meaning of one of W. K.'s poems. We each took a turn at it. Each failed. One fellow tried banging it on a concrete step. We took to crying desperately, "Come out of there, W.K.!" Someone suggested calling for maintenance, our standard mantra for all mechanical problems.

Then, Geoffrey disappeared and came back with a hammer and crowbar. The box bent but held firm. No ashes. Finally, someone held the box with his foot while Geoffrey banged away. Eventually, persistence paid off, as it always did when dealing with W.K., and we hit paydirt. We opened it up and scattered his dust to mingle with the literary landscape that he loved. We thought we were rid of him. But we will never be. The memory of this kind, joyous, misunderstood man, so persistently dedicated to an art that was so unreachable to him, will stay with us until we, ourselves, are dust in that great chalkboard tray in the sky.

Tom Dodge is a writer from Midlothian.