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Letters & Essays: J-L

Letters & Essays of the Day

Letter from Lafayette Square

By Lawrence Jackson

One Sunday in February my mom telephones at eight in the morning to remind me that the bishop of Maryland is coming to Saint James at Lafayette Square, the African American Episcopal church where I was baptized and confirmed. There will be a single service at nine thirty. I debate the shower and then don the uniform that hangs on the back of the chair: pants and a sweater with a shirt inside it. My boy Nathaniel rises easily, despite having even less reason to be keen than I had at his age. In my high school class there were a dozen regulars; younger children were taught in the basement of the church, and the upper grades were instructed in a row house on Lafayette Avenue, on the border of Sandtown. Today, he is often the lone Sunday school student in his grade. Most of the time, he sits by my side for the service.

My younger son, Mitchell, remained with his mother in Georgia when I returned to Baltimore with Nathaniel after our divorce. Our new life is in a stone cottage in Homeland, one of the city’s prestige neighborhoods, which was carved out of the estate of a slaveholding family named Perine in 1922 by the Roland Park Company. Homeland’s quarter-acre lots and neo-Georgian houses were near the top of the market even before the company fortified the neighborhood with racially exclusive covenants. My son, studying at the Jesuit high school I attended thirty-five years ago at the dawn of racial integration for my family, lives near white classmates he has known since middle school, and is connected to extracurricular life in a way that I had half desired but had not imagined possible for myself. He casually accompanies young women who are not African American to weekend events, which often require being chauffeured from a pre-party to a dance, and even to an after-party in a hotel ballroom with a DJ and games involving glow sticks. And where in my experience tobacco, beer, and wine were always in a trunk or a pack, his cohort seems in loose confederation with every “mothers against” group.

Guerre de Plume

By Laura (Riding) Jackson

The passage in the interview with Stephen Spender published in your issue no. 77 in which Mr. Spender played about with a reference made by W.B. Yeats to Laura Riding, in a talk presumably witnessed by Mr. Spender, came to my attention when I was in the midst of composing a chapter for a book of memoirs, the chapter having the title “Importance.” The reference to myself exhibits an attitude to me as one who is an item of literary mention outside the bounds of the Important Mentions but useful as something of a flourish of special sophistication. Literary interviews bring out this particular worst—addiction to strategic mentions—of the literary—world worsts.

Madame, I’m Quite Drunk

By William Jovanovich

Over the last three decades of his life Erich Maria Remarque lived in the town of Ascona on Lago Maggiore. His house and the gardens below it were on a hillside between the lake and a narrow road cut into the mountain slope that runs southeast from Locarno. Inside the rather small building was a prodigious collection of Pisarro and Picasso, Monet and Manet, gold-leaf Venetian commodes and other seventeenth-century artifacts-so many objects, with so few available spaces left, that a Cezanne hung in the downstairs "powder room" and on the living-room floor were late medieval tapestries stacked like rugs.