Wednesday, June 9, 2010

in memory of Jeremy Lespi, my undeserved Keats.

Today, I honor a friend--hundreds of days too late but I fear tardiness is the least of my offenses. Because I lost him as a friend long before the world lost him for good. I made choices and I lost his trust. I made choices and I lost his voice. I made choices and I lost his words.

But recently, the words, at least, have been restored to me--delivered by the hands of his gracious sister Nicole. A gift the worth of which I could scarcely repay if she would even entertain the offer.

So, what can I say here, here in this modest forum, for what few eyes at odd times wander this way? Can I possibly say enough? Should I dare say a word? What words? Exactly, what words?

The question brings me back to Jeremy. Words. Those were the heads we banged and the bruises were no less real for being figurative. Me full of bombast and blurts, he full of meekness and subtleties. Between us in that dialectical dance, grew an ineffable intimacy comprehensible only in the viscera.

We were young poets, doing what young poets do--that is, discovering that poetry did not need us, we needed it. We needed it to excuse our penchant for looking at things through wonky glasses and to support the weight of unwieldy ideas.

And it was in those days, those two monumental years, that I was believed into being as a writer. Jeremy's belief in me turned into belief in myself. His sincerity, his devotion to the art--just as evident in his eyes as my own reflection--stood me up, dusted me off, and said get to work.

And so I wrote and blustered and spoiled my liver and along the way I made choices and lost my mentor, my nurse, my hero, my friend.

Years passed. In the meantime, he excelled as a scholar, had the soul of an explorer, and continued being what he had always been, even in the sonic-boom of my fleeting fame--he continued being the real poet. The poet with wider eyes. The poet with keener senses. The poet with more open arms. And, sadly, the one with the broken heart.

I continue to write. I've studied, I've engaged the craft, I've been tormented and delighted by the whimsy of words. But do as I can and try as I might, since the severance of our paths over ten years ago, my vision blurs when I look through those old wonky glasses and my back buckles beneath the ideas of my youth.

Three poems follow. The first was written in the days of our dance and alludes to a larger conversation between Jeremy and myself. A conversation typical of those unwieldy ones parsed beneath starry nights in Columbiana. The second was written within a week of his passing, the grief for which I rightfully suffered in silence. The third was written recently upon finishing Jeremy's posthumous collection Guard Your Speech and Letters: 30 Poems of Jeremy Lespi. [See sidebar for information on the book and regarding contributions to his legacy award.] I post these poems humbly and respectfully to honor his memory and share my heart.

To A Friend Before I Forget

Love’s tyranny is so complete that even when it’s gone

We’re scared to feel other things.

Where the sleight of hand becomes so slight

It neighbors real sorcery is where the poetry

Finally smells the animal musk of real life.

The lines that separate are dental floss thin.

Ready to cross at a moment’s indiscretion,

One fell tremor and we are in.

But being close is sometimes as good as being there

Because urgency’s more satisfying than achievement

Because as soon as you’re there--

The end zone, the championship, the heaven,

The fight is done and every purpose is wrung from the sponge of our toil,

Our stalactite patience crumbles from the ceiling and showers the ground

At our Undoer’s feet.

To a Friend, Though He’ll Never Know, but Before I Forget

Reminder: Love is blind, deaf, dumb,

Paraplegic and suffers migraines.

Suffers all in the paleness of cloudy

Days perhaps spent dancing

On the crumbling shoals.

Suffers the palpitant annoyances of its own

Decay. Like your heart,

Your real one. I loved

Your heart—your real one.

That flesh-fused, bleeding but briefly,

And eventually shit-headed, assassin

Heart of yours.

Love being what I said,

I hope mine only injured, never

Murdered. Because yours believed

Me into being. We danced the crumbling

Shoals and wetted our ankles in the creek, laughing

Because the lives we were speaking of were so

Obscene, humiliating, sacred, and deep dug down

through the heated core, down,

more deep down

Into the starry lake beneath.

Sestina for a Friend, Two Years Too Late

A melancholy comes with yellow-birds

That vanity swore we could lift with words

Accustomed more often to twisted shapes

And sentiments, more to what separates

The angles, by orders of magnitude,

At the extremes of our hypotenuse.

I call our growth apart, Hypotenuse—

The yawning of us since the yellow-birds

Came whistling of sadness’s magnitude.

With notebooks on our laps like infants, words

Like colicky complaints, we separates,

Once one, began to form our disparate shapes.

Of all that fashions and of all that shapes,

What most will lengthen the hypotenuse

Is the sobriety that separates

The wasted poets from the yellow-birds.

Such subtler creatures, unlike wasted words,

Disguise the barrenness of magnitude

With seeming praise for that same magnitude.

With their color, with their songs, with their shapes—

Each argue the case well. Funny, no words

Are called for. Funny, no hypotenuse

Can threaten the feathers of yellow-birds.

They fly unconscious of what separates,

Unbridled by the yokes we separates,

Then one, once mistook for mere magnitude—

The lachrymal bond of those yellow-birds.

Recall it was the day you showed me shapes

That poems can make, the hypotenuse

One forms by slowing the rhythm of words.

But it was not what we said (not our words

Scratched on flimsy paper) that separates

Us now. This widening hypotenuse,

Our overestimated magnitude

Propelled into eternity, now shapes

The heart-bursting song of yellow-birds

Into a magnitude of blathered words.

Hypotenuse separates mirrored shapes

and along its length are the yellow-birds.


  1. Still it amazes me to think you convinced him you were dying.

  2. I was a good friend of Jeremy's when he lived in Tuscaloosa, and I just came across your post looking for info about the tree planed in his memory. (I know Nicole posted it on her Facebook.)

    Thank you for writing these, sharing these, sharing your memories. The world can never have too many memories of Jeremy. I know I can't.