INTIMATE WITH THE DEAD

L Deerfield
 
   

 

     
 

 

I saw today that Essex Hemphill died
and remembered, vaguely, hearing once before
but by word of mouth, a rumor passed...
He had not been sick in '90 when we met
I thought (briefly only, he read, we spoke),
though in (what?) '92 he had seemed shrunk
somehow, but still bigger than himself with words
bursting, pushing, out from his small frame,
so I dismissed the rumor,
the teller was not sure.
Now I am certain that I knew at least
the second time (again he read, we spoke)
and remembered instead his textured voice,
his rhythms like sex and fight and blood,
his absolute calm, his clear definition.
But I know for certain now, he died
while I slept on a cliff in Portugal
behind a bar, overlooking the beach.

And it was not so long ago
I saw that Kathy Acker died
about the time I ran with my mom
in the Race for the Cure, a survivor
diagnosed a year ago that day.
I wonder if Ms. Acker knew
in (also?) '92 when I heard her
speak, shook her hand and not so secretly
(perhaps) lusted after her sharp
tongue, her (s)punk, her decon/reconstructive
mind. She had been intimate with the dead.

The deaths collide with one another,
press on my grief, still widow
fresh, & open it in a rush of tears.
I don't know which death I am crying for
my Patrick, or Essex, or Kathy
or something dead in me.

And then, glissading this strand of the web
I glide into a Carolyn Forche page,
hungrily sink my teeth into her poems,
finding bread in each, her grandma's
blood sausage, Maya's olives and almonds,
the Colonel's green mangoes.

Carolyn who I never did meet...
that day in Prague police raided the squat.
The Czech kids hurried us out back with our
American Passports and "international conspiracy."
We had to find a place to sleep that night
and missed the reading.

So unexpected that living writers would
become important--that it would matter,
the fact of their being alive
while I consume their words.
 
     

 

   
 

 "Intimate with the Dead" ©1998, 2002 by L Deerfield

This piece originally appeared in STANDARDS V6N2: "Pride"

Reprinted here by permission of the STANDARDS Editorial Collective, in tribute to Essex.
 
     
 

 Original Graphic, "Lapse" © 1998, 2002 by
Jim Davis-Rosenthal
 
     

 

 

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