The writer becomes pen pals with an ornery old poet, Hayden Carruth:

“For most of his life, the beard was cropped and average — it was an unserious beard. But by the time I met him in 2003, it was the broad, white beard of a poet in exile, grown out in his desolate corner of America, a nothing-town near Syracuse called Munnsville. ‘The kids call it Funs-ville,’ he told me. Walking into his rickety red house, I said something like, ‘What a nice house’ — to be polite. ‘Hayden tried to commit suicide in this house,’ his wife, Joe-Anne, shot out reflexively.

“‘No, I didn’t,’ Hayden said, barely turning his head from the picture window. ‘Yes, you did,’ Joe-Anne shouted. She nagged him. They bickered a while. Then he raised his voice, interrupted her and settled it: ‘The pills were in the house,’ Hayden said, ‘but I did it in the car.’”