Excerpt from 'Lovely, Dark, Deep'

The Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, as it was called, was a very busy place at this time of year; there were hundreds of visiting writers, poets, and students of all ages (with a preponderance of well-to-do middle-aged women). But this part of the grounds, behind the administrative offices and the white clapboard residences of the chief administrators, was cordoned off as PRIVATE.

Like an earnest schoolgirl I was carrying a large straw satchel weighted down with books, tape recorder, notebook, wallet. Out of this straw satchel came, now, quick into my hands, my newly purchased Kodak Hawkeye.

For it seemed that Mr. Frost hadn’t heard my faltering voice—hadn’t opened his eyes. In my shaky hands I positioned the camera—peered through the viewfinder at the shadowy figure within with its ghostly-white hair—dared to press the shutter. Very carefully then I wound the film to the next picture.

Like stopping to reload a shotgun, such photography was. You did not simply “take pictures” in rapid succession—each act of picture-taking was deliberate and premeditated.

How strangely vulnerable Mr. Frost looked to me, like an older relative, a father, a grandfather, whom you might glimpse lying about the house carelessly groomed and only partly dressed; it was said that the poet was vain of his appearance, and insisted upon exerting veto power over most photographs of himself, and so it was by chance I’d come upon him in this slovenly state between sleep and wakefulness, as in a hypnotic trance. On his bare feet, well-worn leather house slippers.

I smiled to think Maybe he is dreaming of—an interview? An interviewer who has come to him, in stealth?

In all, I took seven surreptitious pictures that afternoon of Mr. Frost slack-jawed and dozing on a porch swing. Sold to a private collector, resold to another collector, and one day to be placed in the Robert Frost Special Collections in the Middlebury College Library, discreetly catalogued Bread Loaf August 1951 (photographer unknown).

Taking Mr. Frost's picture without permission was a brazen act, I know. I had never done anything remotely like this before in my life—at least, I didn't recall having done anything like this: appropriated something not mine, that I believed to be mine; that I believed I deserved. Yet all this while I was trembling in dread of Mr. Frost waking and discovering me. Exhilaration coursed through my body like a swift, sexual shock—I will steal the poet's soul! It is what I deserve.

* This is a work of fiction, though based upon (selected) historical research. See Robert Frost: A Biography by Jeffrey Meyers (1996).

From Lovely, Dark, Deep by Joyce Carol Oates. Copyright 2014 The Ontario Review. Excerpted by permission of Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.