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Lucinda Kempe


Sarasota Springs, April


How are your artful trees? It seems forever since I saw them. I’ll never forget your gazebo of single vertical cordons—Jonagolds, Spitzenbergs and Fameuse—they transported me to Mt. Vernon and reminded me of Washington’s espaliered apple trees.

I have been dreaming of free-standing, multi-grafted stock. I am completely under their spell. Tell me, A., would Mon. Quantinie approve?

My double-cordons look stark five years in. Not one bite of fruit. No crisp flesh has crossed my dry tongue.

Too much shade in the garden.

Write me your news and tell me what you’re planting now?

Your faithful student,



Père Lachaise, June


I was happy to get your letter and would have answered sooner but our mailman mistakenly delivered it to a neighbor. Sadly, I have sold the nursery and moved to a small house near Père Lachaise. No more plantings. I spend the day channeling the ghosts of Père François de la Chaise himself (Louis XIV’s confessor), Oscar Wilde, and the hundreds of souls across the street. That fills my days very well. What’s to come of it, lady? The worst has already transpired. I couldn’t make love to you for all the espaliered trees in China.

I’m going for a walk having never really been on one. Too many years circling the trees I weaned from their natural growth.

What a load of vanity!

As to the lack of flowering, I suspect the cordons are too long. Prune them.

Peace, love, out,


PS: Speaking of locale, what are you doing on that side of the ocean? Never mind, don’t tell me.


Sarasota Springs, July


Sold the nursery? Channeling ghosts. Paris! Oh, I see. You think I’m making Sarasota Springs up? Like you, I may have flown the coup, transfigured.

I hate lawyers, papers, bickering, bartering, choosing this and that, keeping track of who bought what, when and why. And... I just couldn’t leave my garden.

The garden is the only place I find distraction. Plus, I have my own ghosts, the cats, and my dear Gertrude, buried there. She became quite ill in January. They found a mass in her stomach and the vet put her down the next day when her hind legs collapsed. I buried her by the deciduous azalea and dusted her body with my mother’s ashes. I’d ignored her distress, sort of the way I ignored my mother when she was dying. I felt wicked, but in the end, she didn’t suffer too long.

It wasn’t just the garden…but memories of your convex chest and fine white hair—the way it fell over your eyes and you blew it out of the way. Coral lips, pale-bedded nails, strong calves, and that strange, star-shaped mole on your left hip.

Do you remember?



Père Lachaise, September


Regarding the multi-graft. Ack. Buy it. Preferably purchase a four-year-old tree. To achieve a rigid charpente, the lengthening of the skeletal branches must be slowed so they grow in girth instead of length. The idea of multi-grafts isn’t new. You can buy one at Home Depot. Do so. Onward with the new and remember espalier, like patience, is an art.

Earlier I strolled in the cemetery and stopped by an opened tomb not far from Balzac’s bust. All I could see was dust and the glint of gold. Molars? One day soon we two shall be so. This is a breathlessly beautiful place. Sanctified. Quiet. Freed from what the Buddhist’s call mind weeds and doubt. One can walk with ease. Time disperses amongst the silent ones—Chopin, Collette, Delacroix, Méliès, Molière, Jim Morrison, Proust—together for eternity. Imagine the conversations they must have.

Remember The Devil in Velvet, John Dickson Carr’s historical mystery? A professor sells his soul to the devil and is sent back to Restoration London 1675 where he has to solve a murder before it happens? He becomes entangled with two women, one whom has also sold her soul.

Such would be my fate. Faust redux.



Sarasota Springs, October


Hanging around graveyards, peering into graves, Faust? Really? I don’t know why I bothered to write. You’re the same as you were then.

Thank you for the pruning note. I take it to heart.

Jane Doe


Père Lachaise, October


You’re angry because I ignored your provocations. How thrilling to read you all riled up! Shall I fly over and help you tie your new branches?

Let me know,



Sarasota Springs, November


You lied. Your trees are beautiful. Their charpente perfect and with the leaves dispersed one can see them fully. Your la taille en verte paid off. So ambitious—La Quintinie’s Fan and your horizontal cordons, the most difficult of all the shapes, are divine, thick in girth and pruned magnificently. I am stunned, ashamed that I mocked you and declined your offer, but you make me proud.

Lady, you are my prize.

The flight over was awful. I was stuck between two enormous women with even more enormous mouths. It felt like Le Grand Bouche Redux. We saw that together, I recall.

Ah, you flew away before I arrived. You disappoint me, but I understand and I am happy you allowed me to see the product of your labors.

You must photograph and record all your work. Be a wonderful coffee table book for the idle rich. Do it.

I will be at the hotel for another twenty-four hours if you change your mind. I remain yours,



Père Lachaise, May


You taught me to train the branch away from the vertical, how the flow of sap is braked, hence slowing vegetative growth and stimulating bud production. One must trick the branch; keep its growing tip bent upward while training the remainder horizontal, oui?

I decided to go home. It has been so long. I found an apartment not far from yours. Yesterday, I toured the Potager du Roi, near Versailles. The figurie was orgasmic! The shape of the figs redolent of… you.

To be where de Quintinie worked and pruned was ambrosial! I would conjure my mother’s ashes to have seen him prune. Of course, the price would likely be a beheading.

You were right. Paris is heaven, filled with French tendencies—the love of variety and complication so like the compulsion to train.

From my window, I can see the winged hourglasses either side of the cemetery entrance. Perhaps I’ll go later but I’m off to pay a visit to the Burghers of Calais in its original casting. I don’t care what excuses museums give about the quality of their castings. An original is just that. Period.

I remain,



Sarasota Springs, July


I have done your bidding. The attorneys have the documents. I like the house and will adjust. You’re right, of course. We’re better on paper than in person. Do keep me abreast of the Parisian goings on. I’ll do the same about Sarasota.

I have started the excavation for a new garden alongside yours. The multi-graft is quite fine. I’ll send pictures as things progress.



PS: I prefer the Balzac. Supposedly he stayed erect during the modeling.


Paris, September


Your crack about Balzac’s member…what does it mean? Are you jealous of Honoré? A man who’d desert his love making to capture sensations on paper? Isn’t he like you? A man who gave me a few hours in a seedy hotel after seven years of impassioned correspondence? A man who suggested, “You should try your hand at writing.”

Did you know it took seven years for Rodin to finish his work of Balzac wrapped in a great cloak masking his corpulent body? Upon its completion, Société des Gen de Lettres de France, who’d commissioned the work, disliked the figure’s grotesque proportions and rejected it.

Funny, how it all whittles down to a cock.



*skeleton or frame

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