DICK’S book, Unexpected Gifts, came out in August and was well received. These days he was busy reading at colleges and libraries and seldom came to the Gold Wok. Nan saw a brief but positive review of the book in the Sunday New York Times, which he often bought at Kroger. He could tell that Dick was now taken more seriously by critics. He phoned his friend, who was not in, so he left a congratulatory message. Dick didn’t return his call. He was traveling a lot lately.
Nan wondered whether his friend had abandoned him. Then one afternoon Dick showed up, the same disheveled man in an unbuttoned denim jacket. He didn’t look happy and told Nan, “My book is doing well, but the press won’t reprint it.”
“Why? Don’t zey want to sell more books?”
“I don’t know. They’ve never planned to make money from poetry. Once a book has sold out, it’s dead.” “Dead in just two mons?”
“Well, not yet. They still have three hundred copies in stock, but once those are gone the book will be out of print.” He let out a sigh. “Zat’s terrible.”
“See, whenever I finish a book, I’ll go through a big crisis, not knowing who will publish it. Whenever my book is doing well, it will create another crisis, because it means the book will be gone soon. It’s very hard to keep a book of poetry in print for up to three years.”
“Man, you have depressed me,” Nan said gravely.
“Don’t get upset. We write poetry because we love it. To tell the truth, if I didn’t write, I don’t know if I could have lived so long. I don’t regret doing it.”
That baffled Nan, who felt Dick could easily live without making poems. Dick might just have wanted to sound theatrical. Look at Nan himself-he hadn’t written anything for a long time, and still he was breathing normally, in the pink, as it were. So he had his doubts about Dick’s confession. Not until several years later did he fully understand the truth of his friend’s words.