Monday, December 29, 2008

Poem for David (for George Dunlap)

In memoriam: David Asher 12/11/1950 - 12/29/99

There used to be a time when we were not accustomed to death,
-- there'd been just the occasional casketed grandmother,
or that hometown neighbor who had lived forever anyhow.
And the deaths from wars, and the highway deaths,
and the shooting deaths --
just headlines, abstract,
not really relevant in any particular.
Hardly death at all.

Then, in the eighties, in my forties,
we began pasting obituaries into our scrapbooks.
Eddie first, in eighty-three
-- just a kid, a twenty three-year-old kid --
followed by Tommy, followed by Kenny,
and then Harold and Howard
and Edmund and Joseph and Jay and Dennis and Peter,
and Raymond and Tony, and both Willy and Billy,
-- on and on, until,
most recently,
seventeen years after that manchild Eddie died,
Frankie ... even Frankie!

Thirty names!
A thousand names!
Fifty thousand dead! Newsweek said.
(And we're not done counting.)
Funerals and memorials, ashes scattered in winds.
Commonplaces. Acronyms.
Mourning becomes an avocation.

But not you, David!
That virus flowed all around you,
but not within you.
Your great deep voice and your great deep laugh
lived on, stayed with us, thrilled us,
And those eyes, David!
Where did you ever get those true blue eyes?
Those eyes that have to have caused
countless sighs;
those eyes that have to have
melted the hearts
of thousands of guys!

You gave us cheer. You led the cheers --
cartwheeling and double-splitting,
you made us applaud; you made us laugh,
-- a pom-pom could be
your epitaph!

So suddenly then, so unexpectedly,
comes a tiny explosion
in your head,
and the you that was you
is no more,
is dead.

How surprised I was to realize
when I got that call
that I was not, as I'd thought,
accustomed to death, was not accustomed to it at all!
Who would have thought that you would be
the next to die?
Who would have imagined that on the first night
of the improbably-sounding year of twenty aught-aught
we'd be crowded onto Ryder Street
toasting you with the faux-champagne
that your brother had brought?
"Here's to David!" we said,
and lasers of light
streaked across
a startled sky.

January 2, 2000