By Ali Kahn
“The following tells the story, as faithfully as it can, of Isaac P. Anderson’s life in the war and of my life at the time I discovered several artifacts that began my journey toward him. It is less a literal transcription than a translation, told in the new language of our encounter and collaboration. And if it is a ghost story . . . it is the story of two ghosts who lived at separate points on a continuous thread in time.” —David Keplinger, from Inventing Isaac P. Anderson (forthcoming). Keplinger directs the creative writing program in the College of Arts and Sciences.
t was 1851, early winter. Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. Someone gave a copybook to a 12-year-old boy. The boy filled it with algebra and poems and song lyrics and sketches. He practiced his penmanship and calligraphy, and he wrote his name, over and over, in many styles, from looping script to 3-D blocks: Isaac P. Anderson. For 34 years, the boy and then the man returned to the leather-bound book, filling pages through the years of war and work and marriage, up until 1885, three years before his death, tuberculosis the likely cause. It was 1997, early summer. Harleysville, Pennsylvania. David Keplinger’s aunt gave him a box. Its contents had sat in the attic of her aunt (they had been passed down by another aunt, Isaac’s daughter, and by his widow before that). She gave the box of items, tendered by all the aunts for a hundred years, to the poet. And that was how David Keplinger came to meet his great-great-grandfather, Isaac P. Anderson, artist and actor and poet and painter of signs.
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