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Poetry and Eulogies

I was chatting with my friend Harry the other day. He’s an attorney whom I’ve worked alongside of in the independent political movement for many years. Many consider him the leading election lawyer in the country. I certainly do.

Harry has recently taken up poetry. Writing it, reading it, sharing it. We’re mutual WordPress followers. Discussing some of my memoir pieces, Harry suggested I write some of my remembrances as poems. “You can say certain things with poetry that you can’t say other ways.”

Yeah. As readers, we engage with poems differently. A playful exploration of a more open language landscape. (Something like that.)

This time I offer up some memoir poetry about a couple of people who are no longer walking the earth. I wrote the first one last week. The second one is from 1989.

Happy exploring. I hope they touch you.

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the day between (eleven verses for stuart)

I

stuart would have been 74 tomorrow
but he didn’t quite get there

got a text yesterday
from alex
a young gay man
whom he befriended
a couple years ago

(stu was forever
meeting younger people)

the text read
have news about stuart
call when you can

over the past couple months
stu had taken on that gaunt
old guy look
he wore it well

attitudinally
he’d been that guy
for quite some time

II

I visited him a couple weeks ago
at the SRO
turned hotel
where he lived

it was hectic in his room that day
some drama about his insulin shot
we got to exchange some smiles
and a few words

leaving
i thought
this could be the last time
i see stu

Continue reading “the day between (eleven verses for stuart)”

For Lucille

I

Lucille was 41 when she died
She was a big robust
working class
black woman
She worked for my folks
cleaned the house and
took care of us kids
afternoons
sometimes all the time
when our folks were away

One of those times
she took us to stay
a weekend
with her family
uptown
I loved it
the warmth
the disorderliness
We saw a baseball game
at the Polo Grounds
It was the first time
I ever went
to Harlem

Continue reading “For Lucille”

Aunt Ethel

She studied with Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead, whom she called “Maggie.” She spent months at a time living with the Navajo and the Tutsis, taking notes on their primitive value systems. She got Ford Foundation grants to do scholarly writing in places like Paris and Hong Kong. Her academic artifacts are archived in the basement of the Smithsonian.

But the lasting image I have of Aunt Ethel is her standing in front of the refrigerator dressed in a full length quilted robe, long black hair tied in a bun atop her head, glasses hanging from a leather strand around her neck, withdrawing a new pack of Gauloises from the freezer.

She was the smartest person in the room and she flaunted it, in a subdued sort of way. A Brooklyn Jew by upbringing, she spoke English with a British accent. She took French for one year at City College, mastering the language with the inflection and cadence of a native Parisian. She knew every combination of five letters, in five different languages. And yet, I once almost beat her in Scrabble. Continue reading “Aunt Ethel”