Remember that class in Greek tragedians you took because you’d already read Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, and wanted credit for having to listen to the prof’s opinion.
Then you quit school and drove your Morgan through the University District after hours.
I earned a B.A. for both of us. You wrote a treatment for the first chapter of a screenplay, “The Autobiography of Malcolm X,” for Andrew Sarris at Columbia. Then lived in Paris.
San Francisco, Berkeley: you never left the City again until now. I will miss your hip talk
about Lenny Bruce, whom we almost caught at the Hungry I on one of his last nights,
but climbed the stairs to Cochran’s Room instead, watching the hustlers working, pool
cues dusty with chalk, a hum of sang-froid that never abated even when the loser lost.
Then we drove to Los Angeles, the freeways emptied out, the fires in Watts flaming,
we drove through and returned to where we had entered, needing gas, the black attendant
pointing at the palm trees declaring he was getting out of town once he got off work . . .
Another summer we went to the park to hear Preservation Hall play, taking Mason jars
full of Jack Daniels and a couple extra fifths to see us through the night of inspired talk.
When I was in love again with my old flame, you talked her into giving up her secure job
teaching to run off with me to the wild-ass Vietnam valleys of New England and New York.
Near the end of my Massachusetts madness, you sent a clipping concerning James Jones
returning to the States after many years in Paris, scribbling on it: You too can come home.
You called from California Street, I was staying in Berkeley. Come to dinner, you said.
Laurie and I met for the first time. The phone rang incessantly. No message machine.
Simply two American Express travel agents determined not to be available evenings.
Then you moved to Berkeley. The years pass. Now Laurie calls to say you had a stroke
and died. I had been trying for a month–well, actually years–to send you a long letter
once your heart threw you down, time elapsed, that same heart sizzled, sputtering out.
I felt a short circuit fill my throat with fire, disgust, tears: each future invariably brief.
(15 December 2013)
revised 17 December 2013
copyright 2013 by Floyce Alexander