There’s still air between Banyan strands
four days before Hemingway’s actual birthday
so you need to bike down Duval Street early
and tend to errands before July’s sun grows
temperamental and moody; quick to lash out
and pound into those of us who love anything
or nothing at all. Pouring pale pink and yellow,
light casts slats against this architecture of craft:
stark splotched walls where Tennessee Williams
typed and swam, and Robert Frost made hungry
demands for anyone willing to hear a poem (anyone)
in this town. There, where Elizabeth Bishop pretended
tin roofs cooled their dinged-up surfaces to blue
for begging to be danced on. Over there,
Wallace Stevens made the mistake of ordering a beer
in a bar near Hemingway and found himself on the floor
without a metaphor for punching anywhere between here
and Cuba, or north to the corners of coasts and the logic
of extremities. You’re asleep; all of you who don’t need
to make the mail before the rush of words in envelopes
reprimands the progression letters make in their dwindling
toward electric light illusions. It’s Wednesday.
Today the look-a-like contestants register to compete
for the throne of this year’s Papa and the CVS hasn’t
stocked Santa Claus beards and khaki everything’s
like they do for other Key West holidays; the flashing
star light glasses on the 4th of July, a naughty set
of nurse stockings near Halloween. If Hemingway
were alive he’d be cursing the lack of Marlin, the
crowing of the roosters, or slipping off to the shores
of Cuba by now (this heat) instead of emulating
the ways these knock-offs devour the bleached gray
tar of empty roads with the lingering brushstroke
of a bike tire on an island where the only blues
are bolder in their proximity to the fiery bursts
of blossoms exploding at the pores and goosebump
trembling flesh-bark of the superior Royal Poinciana trees
that only surrender to the sky when winds the size
of hurricanes churn and land and decimate. It’s not
that kind of morning. This calm is the waiting for hundreds
of grown men in beards to march in and take their places
in imitation history. Where were you when Hemingway
turned 120? Turned over in his grave?
The day before, a Tuesday, when leaving
the Mile Zero Crossfit Gym, where the Hemingway
cartoon press-squats a bent bar on the painted logo
on the door, I spot the man with the tan ballcap
and grey-white beard. He’s wiry like Hemingway
before shrapnel in his leg helped the nurses let him
know that women—beautiful women—could be persuaded
to bathe and clothe and feed him. He was walking
past the window and past the door and that’s when
I realized the week was about more than looking
like other things.
This guy wasn’t there to party, but rides his bike back
and forth from Old Town with empty cans in bags
hung up on his handlebars. He’s here for resuscitation
of his alcoholic apocalypse in the liquor store two doors
away while downtown there’s rumors of a recitation;
a second coming times the hundreds, again.
A breathing exercise of bone-breaking lines and swimming
in the collapsing lungs of shallow water drowning, mindless
gulping, or the confusing feeling of falling into something
as familiar as your bed
back home on the Atlantic. Who looks more like you;
the people who imitate your likeness or the sympathetic
souls who comprehend the doom of choosing? It’s afternoon
in summer and out in the Gulf there’s no Marlin to count
or chase or wish for; only the memories of impossible leaps
and the constant tug of being drawn there, to you, and waiting
for the green light flash of immediate sunsets.
Ernest Hemingway’s my favorite Marvel comic hero.
Ernest Hemingway played my favorite James Bond in the movie.
Ernest Hemingway is my favorite most-famous-person-in-the-world.
Ernest Hemingway makes the best front page news.
Hemingway’s the perfect conversation piece.
His gossip makes the world go round.
Ernest Hemingway is my favorite Bond villain in real life.
Ernest Hemingway’s my favorite song, provides the soundtrack
for the tour. Look here; Hemingway saved a mistress here,
he punched out Wallace Stevens over there, he fished here,
boxed there, bet on cock fights over there, came home drunk,
converted to Catholicism, paid penance on Sunday mornings
hungover in Saint Mary’s church, bilked money
from his wife and tied one on and built a big brick wall there.
Hemingway’s my favorite architect and naturalist,
liar and priest, hunter and prey, fiction and truth,
idol and let down, motivation and betrayal.
Hemingway killed a dinosaur once. Hemingway
slept with your husband and verbally abused
your wife. Hemingway understood the voices following him
in banks and bars and restaurants; he knew the Feds
had found him, at last. He promised everything for release
from psych wards and quivered daily
while remembering the sting of electric shocks.
Hemingway caught the biggest fish
had the deepest tan
wore the whitest shirts
and gave his lovers the harshest haircuts
(then bleached those shortened strands
with peroxide). He called his life,
revising. He shot birds, loved
teenagers, hated Scott, and pitied bulls.
Sometimes you are the fisherman
and sometimes you are the fish.
My favorite Hemingway moment
is the day he became both at once.
All of us are searching. Hemingway held the line.
On my walk home from the CVS where they only
sell alcohol for imitating literary greats rather than
rubber masks and electric shock machines, I almost
got gunned down midway through the crosswalk.
The man behind the wheel muttered “thank you”
through his grit teeth, his heavy body braced against
the torque of the sharp-fast turn. He had wispy white
hair and a bright white shirt and wore a red-ribboned
medal around his neck.
I looked down at my watch, and realized the guy
was late for roll call of contestants down the street.
Every influencer on social media looks exactly
like Ernest Hemingway by the end this week
once they figure out FaceApp. Everyone in Key West
now looks like FaceApp on steroids walking on
the street: The gym counter girl, the kitten next door,
a Marilyn Monroe statue, a cemetery grave.
If you were Hemingway
and I was Fitzgerald there would be
misunderstandings bound in books
If you were the cat and I was the roof.
If you were Tennessee Williams and I was the keys.
If you were the green light
and I was Gatsby.
If you were the green light (Active Now)
and I was on FaceApp like the rest
of them, we could be broken by the
clock hands, getting older before our time.
At the post office the woman at the counter
says, You can’t take pictures in here, while I try
navigating the glare off the plastic frame
on an oversized reproduction Forever stamp
of Ernest Hemingway—handsome and alive
and understanding; understandable—
without reproducing the bubbled green
on my iPhone screen.
I turned. She was talking to me. What?
“It’s a Federal building. You can’t take pictures here.”
The soon to be unveiled real Hemingway tour
of Key West would include the birthplace of resentments
and infidelities, neglect, regret, and ever-advancing cocktail hours.
Don’t forget the fish.
Black Hemingway. White Hemingway. Child Hemingway.
Little pug dressed up like Hemingway. Finger puppet Hemingway.
Hemingway with a rifle without a touch of irony in sight. Hemingway
gripping a fishing pole without a chance of finding a stream or a lake
or a trout next to a troubled and reliably jagged mountain range.
Before they introduce this year’s contestants they meet and greet
the judges and the sponsors, they read off the names of every
Hemingway who ever lived. They mourn the fallen men
since last year and swear a solemn oath to never go
over 15 seconds on the mike. There’s a baby dressed
as Hemingway, a man with a rubber fish, a dude in baseball duds
pretending to be Castro first. This year there’s even a younger,
handsomer Hemingway than the judges know how to handle.
In every single face, the imitators see the green light.
Hemingway drank here.
Hemingway pissed here.
Hemingway slept here.
Hemingway fought here.
Hemingway paid off the judges
and the contestants and wore
his own version of a scar.
Chinese, Cuban, Japanese
Hemingway. Kind Hemingway,
Progressive Hemingway. A Hemingway
who uses his brevity to bellow about Trump,
another who speaks Australian. A Bastard,
a lover. Someone who pulls for
Hemingway cats down the street.
Hemingway’s brick wall.
Hemingway’s statue. His fish. His
face in the crowd as people wave
popsicle sticks with photo printouts
of their favorite contestant Hemingway.
Movie cameras. Interviews. Hemingways
Wait for the stage and talk into their iPhones.
No one can find the guy from New Zealand
(he’s in the bathroom). A screen-printed sign
asks “Who’s Your Papa,” t-shirts beg judges
to vote for Jim, Sam, Keith, or Kevin,
or the real and genuine Hemingway.
All of them look the same.
Look over at the bar. The most realistic
Hemingway in the world is on the verge of
starting a bar fight.
A contestant says on Thursday: “I almost
didn’t make it. Thought about robbing a local
bank instead of coming here.”
When they questioned the teller, asked
“Tell us, what did the robber look like?”
The crowd yells “Ernest Hemingway.”
Kurt Cole Eidsvig is a poet, writer, and visual artist whose work has earned awards like the Massachusetts Cultural Council Grant and a Warhol Foundation/Creative Capital Fellowship.