saac P. Anderson did not exist in family lore. “There was no story about him whatsoever,” says the great-great-grandson. “Everything that he was was in that little box, and there was no story outside the box. He was locked in there.” The great-great-grandson of Isaac P. Anderson opened it a crack, he closed it, then he opened it wide. And inside the box were amazing things: his ancestor’s obituary, a posthumous pension document for his service in the Civil War, a stack of new envelopes containing old and yellowed papers, the copybook, and a veterinary handbook on whose blank back pages he had made pencil drawings and practiced sign copy and deep within had pressed oak and beech leaves, still paper flat and perfect. A pair of black wire-rim glasses rested in a leather-covered wooden case, unmarred by time and wear, preserved as perfectly as the pressed leaves. For whatever reason (were they ordinary or were they iconic?), the man, Isaac P. Anderson, or perhaps the boy, had found them an intriguing subject for a study in pencil on a page in the copybook, titled simply “No[.] 3.” “Their bended arms shaped to a face that didn’t exist anymore,” writes Keplinger. “They were small. The face that wore them would have been about five feet five inches tall, or smaller. It was like they existed in both places at once, briefly, instantaneously, as [I] held the glasses in [my] hands, gently opening and closing the arms. In empty space there on the page and in repose, they served nothing and no one. The drawn glasses floated in their own time, as these glasses floated in theirs. The actual glasses were here, but the drawing in the notebook created the suggestion that they were still back there, somehow.” The one man holds the glasses here, now; the other sketches the glasses there, then. Object and likeness occupy different dimensions in space, linking poet and kin across dimensions in time, beyond life and death. In the box, too, was a single black and white photograph of a group of men, tucked in an envelope probably by one of the aunts, 32 American Magazine december 2012
The great-great-grandson of Isaac P. Anderson opened [the box] a crack, he closed it, then he opened it wide. who had also written his name, “Isaac Anderson,” along the leg of one man so that his descendants might know his face among the men pictured. The face on which the little black wire glasses had sat. The six men, all Union soldiers from Company E of the 88th Regiment of Pennsylvania, are dressed variously but appear unanimously young and sturdy and hopeful, documented by an anonymous traveling photographer at the outset of “the war of 1861–’65,” as the obituary said, before history claimed it as the Civil War. It was probably late summer, writes Keplinger, “before any of them had seen action. Their clothes were comfortable and unsoiled. And so are the faces.” The men had existed. The man had existed. “Not the whitewash of the film,” writes Keplinger, “or even the living’s tendency to warp the stories of the dead, until what happened was forgotten, could deny it.”
saac P. Anderson loved faces. He sketched them and their features and sometimes whole figures on the pages of the two books. Who were they? He drew his father, lovingly, rear view and front, with long beard and long hair center-parted and sporting the same black wire glasses. And he sketched his father’s nose in profile. One face in particular, a black soldier pierced by an arrow from an Indian’s bow, prompts the poet to speculate. “Wherever he’s drawing faces . . . it’s the same face over and over again, but with a slightly different expression each time. What was he thinking when he drew that? Who was that face? What was his relationship to that face?”
saac P. Anderson’s great-great-grandson received the box of old things, puzzle pieces of a life passed down by the aunts, in 1997. “But,” he writes, “[I] knew that [I] could not take in very much of it, not yet. It was a discovery of that caliber that would have to crouch a long time before pouncing. [I] literally did not speak the language of the thing.” In fact it took about 12 years. Eventually he did revisit the box. He read and reread the poems on the pages of the copybook, and many, he discovered, were not poems but lyrics. Some of them were songs by other people, he says, and some were songs written by Isaac. That’s when the collaboration began. The collaboration with the dead. Keplinger sat at his desk and thought, what would it be like to sing this song, maybe for the first time—ever? “So I picked up my guitar and started to play, and lo and behold a song came out, and then another one and another one, and I had written a great number of them before I showed them to anybody.” And then began the first part of this project, which was writing the CD. He called it By and By.
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