Yesterday I went for a walk in the West 20s with two friends to see what the galleries might have. A lot of them were in between shows, and we didn’t see anything that made us keel over. It was nice and cool outside with a storm threatening. We all made it home just ahead of the rain and thunder, and as happens sometimes after the galleries, I found myself thinking of a man I knew forty-odd years ago in Seattle, named Bruce Fearing.


I met him in 1982 in a little art gallery called Ground Zero, where I accidentally had an unlikely show of watercolor fish pictures for a whole month. Bruce was a sort of caretaker there, and a poet. His father was the writer Kenneth Fearing. I’ve written about Bruce before, about how he took me down to the Elliott Bay bookstore on 1st Avenue to show me a book of Alice Neel’s paintings, one of which pictured his father, whom she knew, and Bruce himself as a tiny little baby. At the time, he was living in the Matilda Winehill mission, not far from the bookshop. He didn’t have much money, but he was saving to buy that book. 


I thought Bruce was pretty old, but I don’t think he was yet fifty. He reminded me of Columbo from TV, with a New York brogue, a little unkempt in a pleasant way, always an adventure to be around. The funny thing is that while back then I thought he was old, I wouldn’t think so if I met him now, when he actually would be. He’d be about 87. He certainly didn’t think of himself as old. Now I understand. 



I’ve often wondered where he got to, and what it might be like to find him here in the ether. For all these many years I’ve kept the letters and postcards I got from Bruce in the early ‘80s, from Seattle. He typed all of them, sprinkled with little poems, and signed them “Bruce Goose,” or “b.g.” Yesterday I dug them out of the closet and read one, postmarked 20 March 1984, sent from the Alps Hotel on South King Street in Chinatown, also called the international district. I’ll put in some of what he wrote in the letter because why not? Maybe he’ll stumble upon it. 




I had mailed him a watercolor fish picture, and this was his reply:



Romy…pink fish in deep water…came across dry to the mission but now I’m living in the Alps…isn’t that Nice? I always wanted to live the life of a writer high in the alps…yes, I like the i.d.


You lived around here once, no? So thanks so much for that nice card…look at this:


it’s the miracle in poetry

it can be lyrical:

beat & offbeat/repeat &

flow…sometimes, sometimes

it even seems it glows.



A friendly professor with whom I correspond & who initially I came across on account of he was a fan of my dad’s said he didn’t like that one on account it reminded him of Rudolph the rednosed reindeer…I pointed out to him that rrr sold millions & if I could get even slightly slightly close to that I’d be pleased as punch.


New York…I naturally wish you’d meet up with Alice, Alice Neel…I’m on my way out this morning to buy her book so’s I can cut out her portrait of my dad (with the infant me apparently in it) & her nude self portrait & mount them in a Woolworth frame or something…family album you know though, as a matter of fact, family album is exactly the title of one of my dad’s poems…strange twisted life, my ex-mom recently (just) sent me my winnfield day nursery kindergarten graduation diploma dated June 27, 1941…She must figure I’m grown up by now…I don’t agree…


I like the International District just Fine…there’s still absolutely nothing “going on” around this town that doesn’t go on faster harder better & worse in N.Y. I went to the store last night around 11:30 & walked back the deserted streets cheerfully amazed I wasn’t really worried about getting mugged…that’s Seattle for you but beyond that…well…


I donate plasma pretty regular. I recited this to a bright young worker who was sticking me there:


You can’t cross bodies

Without first crossing brains

& I don’t really care

How much it rains



She said: “Who made that up?” incredulous…of course it couldn’t have been me. (sometimes I do feel tired.)


Thing is Alice…she deals mainly out of Graham Galleries 1040 Madison…Harriet Goss manages…

personally, I know I’d be fascinated to hear what you bump into there…I mean what the low rent art scene is…that way all I cld guarantee you is there’ll be 50,000 more of it than there is here, all be weird, hard-edged & positively positive about itself. Every artist seems to believe he’s the source of absolute truth & authority ‘cause that’s where the arts bag is.


Here, I’m enclosing another one that’s sort of woundup. Best, Bruce.



unseen help


the languages of earth

are broken discarded things

I don’t bring into my bedroom

or study…muddy waters is

a clear bag when it

rains a lot upstream…3 things

don’t fly on a straight beam

1 is a team of mismated oxen

another is lox on a mint-scented bun

&the last I’ve forgot so

thanks for what?




My eyes prickled reading Bruce’s letter, not least because of the lead he gave me: go see Alice Neel. Tell her Kenneth Fearing’s son said to find her. He was generous that way. He suggested a few other things, too: places to send articles—you might make 25 bucks! I don’t think I would have had the nerve to try and find Alice Neel then, but she died half a year after he sent the letter so I can imagine that she might not have wanted a visitor. I’m glad he finally had enough money to buy the book.


Kenneth Fearing (& Bruce as baby) by Alice Neel



 Copyright Romy Ashby 10 Sept 2023

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