[This year is the 20th anniversary of Cape Cod Light by Michael Hattersley. The other parts of this series are here.]

Michael’s father’s name was actually Elwood.

He met his soon-to-be wife, Valerie at a mixer in England while he was stationed there shortly after VE day. Her name was Enid Elkins, but she went by her middle name Valerie because she hated “Enid.” The story I heard (certainly condensed and probably apocryphal) is that their first conversation went like this:

Valerie: Hello, I’m Valerie. What’s your name?
Elwood: Elwood.
Valerie: [pauses] Do you have another name?
Elwood: My middle name is Van Ness.
Valerie: Hello, Van.
Van: Hello, Valerie.

He took up painting late in life. That story goes that he would occasionally complain that he could do a better job than many of the painters he saw. Valerie got tired of hearing it and challenged him to prove it, so he did.

We have lots of Van’s paintings at our houses now. His genre was “copies of famous paintings.” Or no-so-famous paintings by request—I asked for a painting of the pulsar planets illustrated in Astronomy Magazine when I was young, and his reproduction hangs in my office now. Another not-so-famous reproduction is on the cover of Cape Cod Light.

As far as I know he painted only two originals; you can see part of one one of them at the top of the picture in the last post, made in the style of Rothko, but in the colors of Michael’s collegiate homes (Swarthmore, Yale, Harvard).

Van with Michael, Vanessa (right) and Victoria (my mother, front) at the beach.

So I suspect Michael got much of his artistic sensibilities from him father (though to be fair, Michael’s uncle, Frances Elkins, was also a painter, so he had influences on both sides).

The ninth poem in Cape Cod Light is Illustration. It as about how art reflects life.


The painted representation flowers away
Leaving us with these mounds of earth and eloquent grids
On which we can stretch experience.
As if we didn’t know the hero
Is exposed at the end as reflection. Here
The high wire artist is caught in slow motion,
Tumbling, and we wait for the next episode
To see him recover, trotting on with élan.
Or will he? Any time it could be for real
And the other rings in this circus include
The horses, for instance, who surprise you
By dancing. We are coming over the hill
Into a glare of sunlight that distorts
And clarifies: on the right
An orchard ready for harvest;
On the left, a village trembling
On its overhang of rock. What is ahead
Is too much in the light,
But not so unlike ourselves as it first appeared.

The next poem is here.

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