By Bryan Paul Thomas
I remember hearing that our poet, Ray, was dead.
I remember being told by my good friend Ed.
Isolated from such news
in the unreality
of a university,
the word came to me
a couple-three years late.
“His poetry was truly great
if he went out with a glass of gin
in one hand and a gun in the other,” I said.
Like Henry’s father, who threatened for years
to drown his sons with him inside the sea.
Father eventually went alone,
leaving behind his sons to live,
and Henry was never able to forgive.
Many poems later, Hank, in a huff, stepped off
a Minnesota bridge
and into refrig-
leaving behind his own
for Henry’s father
never did retreat
into the sea
(though the sea was nearby
when the quick pop came
and blood and brain
splashed onto little Henry’s
— Come away, Mr. Bones.
Ernie was less fond of metaphors
than of bullfighting and Italian whores;
but what it must have been for him to behold
his father for the last time, and to feel so old.
To this day I can not forgive him for calling Othello a “nigger”,
though perhaps some sympathy is due a man who bothers
to make sure that the hole in his head is even bigger
than the self-inflicted wound of his father.
(Or rather, his nada,
who art in nada,
nada be thy name.)
Disappointed to know, at last, that Raymond wrote his greatest
and alcohol tomes
not from inside the glass of gin,
but standing on the outside, looking back in.
Never close enough to taste again,
but close enough to feel the pain
so hard it formed a quiet, magic music of phrase
upon the clean white page.
Such surprise and tearful joy to be reminded, much later
that my father and Ray
went out in much the same way;
not with glass of gin and a gun,
with a bald head,
and two cancerous lungs.
Only forty-nine of his years completed,
passing in his own home and in his own bed,
surrounded by just a few of those who loved him,
surrounded by just a few of those he’d helped so selflessly,
passing in the clean white silence of tears and a respirator.
I was there. It happened in the fall.
My father —
who with magic and music in phrases such as
“You gonna eat that?” and
“Stinkin’ like burnt yo-yo powder” and
“Shoot, yeah!” and
“You sorry? Of course you sorry. All niggas is sorry.”
— was my favorite poet of all.
Date: Thu, 28 Dec 1995 161237