For the first time at Oxford, Henry had found more than an acquaintance; he had discovered a real friend. With Gloria, he was not a fuckup whose life achievements were all the products of nepotism. He was just Henry, fellow Van Morrison devotee and foil for dead women poets everywhere.
His life may have been as fucked up as the dead women poets she studied, but Gloria didn't need to know that. He couldn't bear the thought of scaring her away.
Gloria's favorite class at Oxford was somewhat nontraditional
with its renegade instructor. And she attended this class
without the instructor even knowing she was there. Behind
the mysterious loo door, she would listen intently to his wisdom
and insights about one of her favorite poets, Van Morrison. Gloria
thought Henry was one of the best teachers she ever had, rivaling
anyone at Yale or Oxford.
Tonight's explication was Tupelo Honey, Van Morrison's gorgeous Woodstock album and song of the same name. She loved the title track, agreeing with Peter Mills that it was a "slow-dripping declaration of love."
She's as sweet as tupelo honey.
She's an angel in the first degree.
She's as sweet as tupelo honey.
Just like honey baby.
Well straight from the bee.
They can't stop us from the road to freedom.
Gloria always thought of "Tupelo Honey" as more of a country
song, but tonight Henry was playing it as pure blues. This recent
remake with Bobby "Blue" Bland was a-fucking-mazing. Rhythm and
blues maestro Bland together with Van Morrison transformed the
song into heartfelt blues with profound lyrical resonance, totally
capturing the moment. At Bland's sultry pronunciation of "Tipelo"
instead of "Tupelo," Gloria immersed her quivering body in the
sultry water of her warm bath.
Every night, she would listen to Henry's illumination of the music as she lay in a warm, soothing bath. These were not Oliver's harsh scrubbing baths of morning ritual and prayer. Rather, these were Henry's late-night Van Morrison baths - soothing, sultry, and calming to the soul.
v As she lay back and closed her eyes, allowing the water to frame her face, Gloria thought about tupelo trees; they too thrived in water, preferring the moist ground of riverbeds and creeks. Their blossoms were beautiful and fragrant but extremely delicate and vulnerable to the elements. One strong wind or harsh rain, and they were gone for good. That vulnerability and their short blossoming season made it a fucking miracle anytime one survived.
But when it did, the blossom produced sweet and delicious tupelo honey, which Gloria thought an incredible prize for the remarkable feat of holding on.
Excerpted from Oxford Messed Up by Andrea Kayne Kaufman. Copyright © 2011 by Andrea Kayne Kaufman. Excerpted by permission of Grant Place Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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