April 7th, 2005

In Memory of Julian Boyd

Open, Close

for Julian Boyd

This is the month of dead fathers.
I reach my hand into the bag
of darkness, linger on the blue
velvet as I fumble for details

because I need something to
hold fast. Roast beef sandwiches,
getting bus-sick on Interstate 80
as I flipped through my reader,

light-green, the cover torn. Your
scrawl, coarsened by the copier,
reminding me how little I know. Let
me ride past the refineries of

memory. One day I drove out to
Richmond to help Robin Goodbeer,
her basement perfumed with reality.
You showed her Hamlet's problem

was an excess of whiteness. We
dream of leaving the body but
it's our blood that makes us sing.
Before I heard the news I walked

back and forth in a bookstore,
restless until I spotted the Confessions.
Chapter 11. Bankruptcy of the limbs,
then lungs and liver. The ideas

remain solvent. Why did Nick
like opening cans? Because
that way he always came full
circle. You identified. A

windswept North of the mind.
Always trying to narrow
the point. And then you realized
it was gone. Clear water

is a lie. You know what you
want but not what you lack.
The real man heads for the
swamp. Louisiana. The

Depression. A mother soaking
up liquor. Nick never got
there. But you did. The fishing
may be harder, but it's a lot more

honest. Slowly you retrieved
the words you had lost,
repairing the broken links
between them with baling wire,

your fingers, voice wrapping
over and under until they held,
precarious. Ten minutes later
you had to do it all over. Some

rituals are worth repeating. I
remember when I first felt
you circling back through
me. I knew German. You

remembered. Phrases float
to the foamy surface, bumping
into water-logged things. The
truth conditions on counter-

factual subjunctives. If I had
called your house, we would
have had a halting conversation.
If we had walked up that hill

behind the music building, we
could have talked forever. Maybe
that's the lesson. You have to be
there. I see you reaching out

to punctuate a point, feel
the way your grip clamped onto my
shoulder, always longer and
stronger than I expected. How

the sight of that orange
Karman Ghia lured a story
out of its paper-walled hiding
place. If it's philosophy

of action, where are the
action verbs? This is pure
passion. I love you and
you can no longer love

me back. When the little
circle, perpendicular,
bites into the big one,
it leaves a metalled furrow.

Endlessly you opened
them. Cans. Shoulds.
Musts. My lid is off
now. The liquid sloshes

over the edges. It might
spill on the floor, make
a puddle to tramp through.
I will never forget.

There's More Than One Side To Every Sadness

As my cryptic post of a handwritten quiz on UC Berkeley stationery yesterday and my post of an even more cryptic poem a few minutes ago suggest, I'm in mourning. My hero, role model, and friend Julian Boyd passed away yesterday. He was an idiosyncratic man and an even more idiosyncratic teacher, but the hundreds of people he touched -- and that's a highly conservative estimate -- would surely testify, along with me, that his idiosyncrasy contained unusually high percentages of both love and genius.

I learned how to teach from Julian. More importantly, I learned what I want to do with the time I spend as a teacher outside of the classroom. His generosity was enormous. And I had the privilege of experiencing a lot more of it than most of the people he knew. I'm going to try to write an essay about what I learned from watching Julian. For now, though, the poem will have to speak in its stead.

One of the great things about having longtime friends I stay in touch with through this blog is that we can share things that would be hard to express over the phone or in person. It meant a lot to me today when Batdina and Steven posted their entries about Julian. I rarely cry, but they got me tearing up. Then, when I read Kim's entry, I cried the way I did when I was three. No doubt my mid-life crisis is contributing to my sudden thrall to extremes of emotion. Today, though, the outpouring felt completely justified. I wish I could keep crying.
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The Haul

After meeting Kim for lunch at Beyond Bread today, I headed over to CD City. This time I confined myself to ten minutes and one small portion of the 2 for $5 racks. But look what I picked up in spite of those limitations:
• The Swingers soundtrack
The Kennedy Years (speeches of JFK and RFK w/ a track reserved for the latter's assassination)
• Shuggie's eponymous record of neo-70s rock a la Minneapolis
• Rancid's self-titled 2000 release
• J Church, Arbor Vitae
• The Funk Is Back, a sampler with most of the usual suspects on it
• Girls Against Boys, House of GVSB (in bassist-cum-publisher Johnny Temple's honor)
• Keith Jarrett, Personal Mountains
and, last but first,
• The Who, Live At Leeds in the extended version.
That's a pretty good harvest for $22.50 plus tax. The original Live At Leeds was long one of my favorite concert albums, though I don't recommend it as a "trip" record, at least not if you plan to go the cocktail route. Keith Jarrett? Anything he does is bound to give more than $2.50 worth of entertainment on the first listen. I'm also delighted at the prospect of fleshing out my 1990s punk collection at bargain prices.
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