You don’t know a sucker punch until …
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. . . until you discover someone that you’ve been looking for hasn’t moved from a single spot for two years.
I haven’t completely processed this yet, but I can tell you there’s a loss that I can’t yet put into words. I’ve been looking for him for the better part of ten years, and for a man who hated technology, this was not easy. I found addresses and sent letters to no avail, but received encouragement from these strangers that shared a common name, because as one gentleman wrote – “he’s out there somewhere, probably wondering why you haven’t picked up the phone”.
One of the biggest influences was a teacher I met at Fisk University. He encouraged me to write, exploring themes and styles — though never poetry, because we all know how I feel about that. He brought Al Young as a Writer in Residence and for the first time I found validation from professionals.
I knew he’d gone to Poland and I knew he was still writing, I just couldn’t pin him down. I wasn’t looking to reconnect on any personal level, but — and this has never been more true than in the last four years — I wanted to tell him “thank you”. It’s been the start of an amazing ride for me and I wanted to share this ecstatic feeling with one of the people that gave me the push I needed.
He once wrote in my autograph book – “Alex, it has been so fine to know you”. There is more but that’s what I remember off the top of my head. I keep that book with all of my other mementos and snippets of another life. Maybe I’ll dig it out this weekend and offer a toast. Maybe I’ll never look at it again.
Every few months I’d launch a new search — combinations of keywords and phrases always ended in a series of dead ends and false leads. So when every link led me back to my same nothing starting point, I’d set the search aside, and wait for the search engines to realign and repopulate and gather.
Tonight, I started it again, and you can’t imagine my elation when my keywords finally hit upon a tangible lead. Al Young had a post with Frank’s book of poetry and the cadence I’d come to know in my mind was like the soft fur of my cats under my palm. I was confused for a millisecond by the title (BON VOYAGE: Frank Russell (1951-2008)) and I made myself read the poem slowly. I knew what was coming.
It was like walking down the hallway to the visitation lounge. You try to memorize the tiles and the cracks in the ceiling. You make the hum of the fluorescent lights break that blood/brain barrier and become the pulse of your heartbeat. You walk slowly because you know that when you reach the end, everything will change. They will pull back the curtain, you’ll see the body on the slab and give a curt nod, and the curtain will drop.
I savored the poem and I let the words seep into bone. I smiled at parts because this was the Frank I knew – radical ex-hippie who hated cigarette smoke and lived off of tuna fish and stale crackers. He hated war but when the Gulf Conflict broke out and students rampaged through the halls in an impromptu and ultimately pointless protest, he commented that this was nothing compared to Vietnam and they needed to get asses back in seats to learn why.
At the end I took a deep breath, the curtain was pulled back.
As for me, I feel such treasures to pass on, my mission accomplished since age twelve: I know now how matter began, life, self-conscious life, even how the universe and simians end, and why. But who cares? They’re glued to the commodities board and 500 cable-satellite channels of mind-numbing schlock of violence, surgeries gone wrong, 700-pound housewives, fake wrasslin’ and Nascar, and retards with balloon tits eating worms.
Instead, I’m tuned to the Beuth and Trudy show 24-7.
How I loved those gold and silver wings of my youth!
Yet now I see this strange wingless angel in the mirror.
And all my missing children feel like an emergency.
I’m left smooching the treachery of bad sex with lines of slick chicks on speed. I’ve been running from those lambchops everywhere, in every ivory tower, wearing my crown in shame.
Stupidly happy in that psychedelic season in heaven,
I now joust sweatily with reason just to get through the night.
What trick makes it possible to grit my teeth until death?
Turkish poppies on ice work awhile, but then they’re a dead-end.
Goodbye, Frank. The world is a little less everything without you. More importantly,
Thank you for seeing beyond the rough edges. Thank you for telling me that talent was meant to be honed and with skill came bumps and bruises and scars. Thank you for reminding me that there will always be a box of rejections with reasons varying from “not quite right” to “this just won’t cut it” — and that box should always be a reminder that I have miles to go before I sleep, but when I can grab the quick cat nap in the hollows of dark trees and in ditches along sides of roads, it will leave me energized and refreshed.
He was right.
Thank you, Frank.