Published by hhAuthor on 26 Nov 2012 at 12:55 pm
“I never saw a man who looked with such a wistful eye upon that little tent of blue which prisoners call the sky.” -Oscar Wilde
My dear friend R has passed away. It came as a shock. I knew he was ill but it hadn’t occured to me that he might die. He was a force, such a strong, singular individual. Complex, witty, acerbic—understanding the absurdity of our obsessions—R was our friendly neighborhood court jester. I mean that with the utmost respect. One must be brilliant in order to poke fun and criticize with impunity. A true iconoclast, holding several degrees, in physics and philosophy, he’d been a conscientious objector, imprisoned at McNeil Island Federal Penitentiary in Washington for three years. Brave and compassionate, he was a loving father and a volunteer who worked in malaria camps, for the World Health Organization and to end poverty. He wanted to save people.
Higher consciousness–of utmost importance–sustained him. He put a lot of faith in reason, in the mind, especially his own, berating himself for a dwindling vocabulary while accepting that non-verbal communication was most effective, even required in prison. I think he possessed that “wistful eye” before he was incarcerated. It was a most observant eye, an appreciative eye, a lover of beauty’s eye.
Art too was vital of course and he always encouraged me in mine, even had me convinced I was invincible. And with nothing sacred, we shared many laughs. Reading R’s letters from prison, I am struck by the intensity of his desire, how, never feeling shame, R never forsakes it. He identifies with the tough, feral cats inhabiting the periphery, the gentle cows and the little birds fighting for survival more than his fellow inmates-draft dodgers, knowing salvation is not imminent for any of them.
R railed against darkness, ignorance, seeking the sun, light, while weathering the banal, the insidious, living his politics as much as anyone can in this brutal world. Ironic that he wound up residing on an island after being trapped upon one but R knew the human spirit mattered as well, and more than the physical being. “I won’t be institutionalized.”
Driving into the Cove the other day, I kept glancing up at the North Shore mountaintops luminescent in the fading light, far away trees gleaming green as emeralds. So moving! To tears, and though aware that I was thinking of R, knew that I wept for us all. Still, I was happy, just to be here, to be alive, to see such incredible things, know such remarkable beings.
Though he never left.
Fully himself. Always.
As the black starlings fighting
For food in the snow,
Alongside the milk cows,
Returning to his cache of sky,
Sun skin and kinetic clouds
Each night. Night a starlit carriage,
Buffer ‘tween long sighing,
Cold, lumpy porridge.
He spurns downhill arrangements,
Blank gruff voices for the strumpet,
For any, for all women,
Building a ladder to the window,
To a view of summer,
To life as he knows it.