This happened. I’m sure of it. It was far too vivid to just have been a dream. On a wooded footpath in Central Park, I came to a narrow bend in the road. Seated on a stone bench that should not have been there, was the ghost of Dylan Thomas. He was drinking whiskey with a purpose, “Why here?” I asked. “Why not at the White Horse Tavern?”
“Because you’re not at the White Horse Tavern, are you? I’m here to help you with this quandary with which you are suffering. You keep telling everyone you’re not a poet. You need to embrace the truth. You’re one of us.”
“So, we’re like a thing?”
“Yes,” he laughed; “We’re a thing.”
“And I’m a part of it?”
“I’m here to help you see that you are.”
Long a literary hero of mine, I was enthralled with Dylan Thomas’ appearance. His tweeds were magnificent. I had always imagined him as grainy, in shades of black and white—all of his nuance varying tints of gray. This is how he appeared in every photograph I had ever seen. If I imagined him in color at all, the hue was merely a sepia wash, as if overlaid on a dark charcoal rendering. But the man before me was not flat or colorless. His cheeks were flushed. His ruddy lips smacked wetly after each swallow of whiskey. The sad, still look of his eyes that had always stared back at me from the pictures was replaced now with a whimsical curiosity. Their luster communicated a bemused questioning. It seemed as if Dylan Thomas wasn’t quite sure what to make of me.
He smelled of rich tobacco and whiskey, both fresh and aromatic, with none of the stale bitterness one associates with alcoholic tragedy. The subtle colors running in and out of the coarse threads of his suit gave the garment a vibrant resonance, and his countenance, always a flat two-dimensional thing for me, was lent a lively, and by comparison, riotous animation—a being tangible and real. He was short, but for some reason, I expected him to be shorter. Our preconceptions of how our icons appear in life—or in this case death—are never quite what we thought they would be. But here he was. If not exactly in the flesh, at least in a substantive, spectral state—three-dimensional and animated.
There was no way I could refuse Dylan Thomas—not even his ghost. So, I surrendered. I admitted it for the first time—even to myself. The poems I published were not a lark. They were not the product of a dare accepted. They came from me—from the central dark, suffering core of me. They are a critical part. They are who I am. I am a poet, Goddammit! Having said it at last, it felt good. The letting go of so much long held denial felt cataclysmic. He seemed pleased with my self-realization. But I was talking to the ghost of Dylan Thomas. I had questions. I wasn’t going to let this opportunity go quietly into that good night.
“Why are you drinking whiskey, when it killed you?”
“Did it?” he asked.
“Didn’t it?” I was unsure of myself now.
“If I hadn’t drunk those eighteen whiskeys in the White Horse that night, would you have recognized me when you came around that bend? No, I think not. I would have just been the ghost of another devilishly handsome and nattily dressed Welshman. Those are a dime a dozen. Though, few ever wore tweeds and a bow tie quite as well.”
He forced me to concede the truth. While his death was tragic, it was irrevocably woven into the fiber of who and what he was—brilliant, soulful and ultimately doomed.
“Whiskey didn’t kill me,” he said; “It made me immortal.”