It wasn’t her fault. She didn’t know I was coming to Wales. She didn’t know I’d confused her with Dylan Thomas.
Poet and playwright, drunkard and delinquent, Dylan Thomas is my favorite writer. So when my writing died, I went to Wales to retrace his life. I was convinced Thomas’s ghost (with some anatomical editing) was my muse.
Off I went, from Los Angeles to London to Cardiff to a seaside town called The Mumbles. I thought I’d find my muse in Dylan’s Cafe Bar in the Mermaid Hotel.
There it was, the destination of my dreams … burned out and boarded up. I stood there and stared, waiting for my muse to fling open the door and invite me in. She didn’t.
I trudged down the street to Dylan’s second favorite establishment, the Antelope. I scanned the beers on tap until I came to a bitter named Courage.
“Courage!” I ordered. “That’s what I need.”
“Dylan used to sit over there, and he was a terrible drunk,” the proprietress said. I sat in his booth and waited for my muse to bite me in the arse. She didn’t.
I packed for Laugharne, another Dylan haunt. The owner of my bed and breakfast tried to stop me, I wasn’t surprised. The town had a bad reputation in Dylan’s day, too.
Yet I followed in his sloppy footsteps and ended up at the Boathouse, Dylan’s home. I stopped dead when I saw the blue tool shed. It was Dylan’s writing shed, and it was just as he’d left it. An amber beer bottle (empty, of course) stood like a sentry on his red wooden writing table, and wadded-up papers festooned the floor. I nosed my camera against the window and fired.
Black-and-white family photos hung crookedly on the walls of his cozy living room, which swelled with his voice. It was a booming voice, a commanding voice, a voice even a wayward muse should have been able to hear. She didn’t.
During the next three days, I looked for her everywhere. I climbed the hill of the cemetery where Dylan is buried, his white wooden cross a beacon in a field of gray headstones. (He didn’t go gentle into that good night. “I’ve had 18 straight whiskeys. I think that’s the record,” he said before dying at the age of 39.) I ordered a bitter in Brown’s Hotel, which is not a hotel, but Dylan’s favorite pub in Laugharne. I joined the ruddy codgers who used to drink with the writer at his bay window table.
“He was no good to nobody,” said one man, who got up and left.
“Nobody in Laugharne liked him,” said a woman who slid into the empty chair.
I left Wales. My muse stayed.
Or so I thought–until I got my photos back. I was looking at the picture of Dylan’s writing room I’d snapped through the window. And there she was, a prim brunette in a navy suit and sensible shoes, hovering in the comer of the room, transparent as a ghost.
A double exposure, my photographer friends scoffed. But she doesn’t look like me, and nobody else was there when I took the picture. Nobody appears on the adjacent negatives.
Mystified but elated, I placed my muse’s photo next to my computer in my own writing room. Then I waited for her to put words in my fingers. She didn’t.
Finally, months later, I did what I should have done before I went, to Wales. I sat down on my arse, wrenched words from my head and flung them onto a blank screen. Only then did my muse intervene.