Iowa and Keith Vaughan

Here is a poem by Alan Ross on the death of Keith Vaughan in 1977. They had met when Ross was working with Minton on Time Was Away. At this point in time, they were living in the same house in different flats. For a time Ross was sleeping in the boiler room while trying to make a living as a journalist. In 1966 Ross also edited Vaughan’s journals, Keith Vaughan Journals & Drawings.

Keith Vaughan: Interior with Figures (I), 1940

Iowa and Keith Vaughan

Learning of your suicide,
The customary calm of your ending
In that methodical way,
The remorseless advance of the enemy
You could not stop gaining on you,

I look up
At your paintings of Iowa,
Cedar Rapids, Des Moines, Omaha,
Remembering my own journeys
Through that unpopulated landscape
West of Chicago – unpopulated
Because she wasn’t with me – my notes
So similar to those scratched
In the margins of your drawings,
As if it were them I travelled through,
Not the real thing, that emptiness
Spilling its way to the Pacific.

You observed:
“Red oxide barns with silver pinnacles”
“Pink pigs bursting from black earth like truffles”
“Ochre sticks of corn stubble”
“Space and sun”

And approaching Omaha
“For sale – Night Crawlers”
“The air of expectation; of probing contacts”
“Extraordinary prevalence of mortuaries,
Neon-lit and glittering like cinemas”.

What you drew
Were the black barns and white-timbered houses
Reminding you of Essex,
Snow patches and corn stooks,
Silos erect on the countryside like penises,
The starched white
Fences protective of loneliness.

I am in Iowa again,
Landlocked and frozen
In a numbing death of the spirit –
You knew before your own
How many forms death takes.