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Elegie For Richard Bartee

Elegie For Richard Bartee

   

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  I never knew your own. You seemed to take up anything / Effortlessly.

I never saw you struggle for flawlessness.

 

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Elegie For Richard Bartee

By Matthew Paris

 

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Our shepherds have eluded their sheep awhile; They hope they might be alive on day care Somewhere; the true mourning in Arcadia for you Hasn’t begun, Richard; the sheep cozeners For openers don’t think much of their jobs. Hey, the income’s good or tolerable, somebody’s Printing funny money in a cellar somewhere The noodles are fine; the damned mutton’s fresh. They left their crooks on the yellowing green They’re watching marathons of Howdy Doody Re-runs. We know, Richard, sheep themselves Are wooly experts on the cosmic subway On the new parade of movies, what one can buy With ATM cards that just won’t quit in a supermarket. With such a population you’d hardly notice When a saint like you read verse on trains Preached virtue in school lunchrooms, pitched Adult life of power over tepid chocolate milk. The news itself didn’t feature your hidden march To virtue; perished readers couldn’t fathom you Or anything too much beyond their interest either. What’s in the media these days but spammed fluff From the fecund fantasy of downtown pimps?   Once, Richard, you moved underground whimsically Like one whistling Dixie in a cemetery Even the sensation, God’s charity in an abyss Hardly caught or held their fixed saurian eye. Who was this man who one day preached in tombs Motile, hurtling through an artificial night? What sort of waggish hero with a soft voice And the massive shape of an Olympian turned Hell’s crannies filled with small discomforts Into temples rich with virtue? Who honored you With knighthood, the right to joust daily With subway placards offering a beer or two To quench the roughness of the throat, the whale Who held such wights in its innards whirling Though the subterranean lakes of Pandemonium?    Later you wrote raffish jingles on tobacco Sold filters to relieve us from wickedness Of industries who’d vomited their steely offal Into nacral rivers, bringing night to herons I know always when some outdoor meeting Called New York together to protest some vice That oozed out ordinary venom in its dull atrocity You were magically there with soothing elixir, Not to make enemies. You saw light in Lucifer.                                 2 Richard, you championed the power of your charity Power to heal, not merely posture; you were sprite Of anodynes of honeyed reason. My guess is once A million trekkers in the depths touched by you Decades ago had muttered five or eight years Later: this mad stranger changed my life. Richard, Without trumpets or any kings you were the wizard Of the abyss, apt to hoard the old clothes found In city garbage bins; you alone knew the refuse Might be what some wintry freezing spirit needed.                                      3 Richard, let the sheep go home; there is no hearth For them. Let them think the paper green is lush Somewhere. Let shepherds sitting in stone malls Wait for the gaudy news to find out who they are. You were neither sheep nor shepherd; free of all This crude autocracy of use of meat and wool Maverick, powerful as light itself, no dull language Could not pinon what you were to God or America. Avuncular papa, caring priest, witty, elegant Baron and rogue of the streets, champion and poet. We have no words for singularity, nouns are mediocre Crooks designed for simple sheep. Richard, no crooks  Have words for you. Your long and fruitful ministry Enhanced brass mortality of millions, escaped All commerce, spun like nocturnal energy ascending Clockwise in spheres beyond their dullish science. Dapper in a light green suit, wry, an urbane smile Mocking your grave journey, underground, ran verse At steeled-sheathed robots in a pit. They wondered Whether their ambition to be jetsam, furniture In a lake of fire was more apt for sycamores Than spirits hurtling through tunnels in abysses.                                 4 In youth you played at magic in a game of mayhem All America adores; a canny quarterback whose swift Intrepid moves on football fields made many fans Swear as you went slicing bigtime over tackle  You were perfection as a leader of such carnage. I know an athlete is always set apart, a hero In his heart, most leonine among the many craven I don’t perceive what deep and lightless alchemy Had burnt you in invisible fire to mold your skills At end runs, passing, tackling, blocking In an abstract barony of violence and bad knees Into soldier for the healing of the universe. Now Richard, I wish I had asked you. What is grace That comes to us some think within a gulped pill Or molten treasure buried in a soft mound of flesh? What birth in ultimate darkness was foaled by nature In your close-up magic? Modest as you were, Richard You would have told me, though a bit embarrassed.   I suppose you must have learnt in puerile youth From many second halves to be resolute, strike When the other heroes crumple, take the hooks The hidden kidney punches from the swarm of guards Do not back down, be resolute. What does that say? Could we discover from you how to be a miracle In a pen for certified churls to teach tricks To the less adept? Richard, I hardly think so.   I’ll miss your memoirs. Maybe you had feints In mysteries you’d learnt within the split tee You’d brought to night games beyond the goal posts. It wasn’t wizardry but ease in you that startles one To think: there is a gift for divinity some have That arms their nature much as breathing does to imps Fresh from the sea who wink and swallow air.                                   5 We rarely have the chance in life to take action You did before that crowd in Florida who cheered You for your excellence, Richard. Most jobs ask At most for little theft and grudging competence. You had known in football what most dream of doing: How skilled one might discover one could be If one brooks anguish, boredom, lassitude, despair Garnering the dark frontier of one’s high limitations. I never knew your own. You seemed to take up anything Effortlessly. I never saw you struggle for flawlessness. You talked or sang or took up justice or consoled With the same uncanny grace. It set your soul apart Forever. You shifted your resolve from street to street. Of many virtues I admired most your fearlessness. You were master of bravery. You lacked enemies   But walking down a street with you was always perilous. You shrugged at nothing, passed by no evil, sure Like many old Americans who themselves, wrestling With the fixed and riddling mysteries of nature Whatever faced you though it howled with dragon’s Breath was not a monster but a spark of heaven In cinder maelstroms all redeemable with virtue.                                     6 At least as athlete and wit, poet and singer, activist And champion of all heartbroken you were in ways Almost unfathomable to those who watched you act. For someone who was naturally a hero you were humble As few heroes are. You never bragged as churls do. You found in enemies all sorts of hidden excellence. You never seemed to notice rage and evil in your foes. You felt an abstract sadness at the diffidence And massy armor in the dominos of strangers. You could make a demon feel for an amiable hour He was nearly angel, a cracked soul almost honest. There was no knot of mischief or deception in your nature. If one had troubles you were there before they voiced them Offering some sanguine consolation from your open heart. There was nothing you did not take up and alchemize With speed I found most startling. Casually, you brought illumination to anything on Earth or beyond it.                                               7 Our jealous honor when we offer banal alms to heros Is reductive; we hope satanically one day to trash The real capacity they have for grace and singularity. I’m sure that many fools had viewed you as a man Most marginal in isles of the vaporous and hellish spirit Coteries whose aim was often soporific tedium. Amusingly, without respect for craven anthills Or any trace you had been trying to become conventional. You owned a house, were educated, married to a deep And loving partner; well dressed, sober, you looked While taking up prophetic byways, suave, adorned with wit Confident as though you were a clubhouse regular Among the cave cult, rife among some business folk. At least you managed to appear bourgeois at first If afterwards no one could miss your saintly nature.    among your many jokes this was your vintage jest. Richard, now that you are elsewhere I regret We never had a talk about some ancient moments Of your emerald trek I’d have loved to hear. How did you find the thorny trail to virtue? What demons did you joust with in its blurry limits? Had you eerie moments where your charity was breached? I never asked you all these questions; yet I think I might not easily have fathomed your clear replies. You had skills that no one had and lots of them; Who knows what sulphur crucible you commanded? One could only guess the skill with which you used Your brains. I could see your photographic memory Your instant garnering off the core of any substance The casual way you were at once magician, singer Man of spirit, urbane wit, consoler, educator. Did your facility mask a war with the Amelekites? Richard I should have asked you. I will never know.                                       8    Your life was steeped in healing. Such action means You were a doctor tending to a planetary hospital. For years you’d told me of your strong adhesion To the continent of Africa; it was a fiery jewel Among your discourse. I couldn’t hear at first Too much beyond the words until I heard your fables And your poetry. Then I knew you’d made a marriage Not merely with nostalgia and its strong umbilicus But real ancestral power, a feral vision alive In a universe stuffed with three faerie worlds Parallel, rife in some amiable ghostly commerce. It blended with your modern urban side, your moral Disciplines which set you with the desert voices Echoing from skies where the Nameless thundered Out his ethic in verses, stony revelations.  Wherever you are in heaven, you must love God; He is like you a strange and involute comedian Working the rubes and insiders with some style In a rough and outland carnival. You and God Are friends. It has to be. You the witty acolyte Master of the mischievously ineluctable.                                      9 Enjoy your colloquy. We are less a bit of air More remote from the table talk of the Throne. Yet even here on Earth though we are mostly Too busy looking for a place to eat, we know  In the end there is some miracle afoot when one Who turns planet or star, even a mortal human Whirling in this lightless envelope of ether Sees he is not a mote of dust or dead jetsam Spinning in infinity, imaginary stony thorns Cleaving the emptiness interred in anthracite At worst thinking it was conscious though Mostly hunkering for spasms and brute terror. Richard, when does that inner alchemy occur? In childhood when one’s small and febrile? I doubt it. Your high credo comes from adult life From knowledge of one’s astral nature. Perhaps One says, first alone in a chamber, then aloud If only in a hiss, half scared, self-surprised: “I am a star, I have the flint to generate fire. I am in these nocturnal coves a vessel of light.” When you did this, in what weather I don’t know. I felt your warmth, the balm of much illumination. Now that you have traveled much beyond this drop Of a world most punished when its weaklings Venomed with splenetic elixirs, are sluiced With narrow malice you are free of poisons That have turned our gut sour and dispirited. Spleen excites its lacerated spirits often To take up in a cauldron ires which ooze out Vapors in a crimson pus: ichors of sour revenge Lakes of mute despair, a huge boneyard of death. In this perplexity where Ezekiel once said to God Ambling beyond Pisgah: “Can these huge femurs live?” Let me testify at least to what you left me, poet. It’s what you gave so many millions without stint. The gift is clear; you offered it to simpletons. I will always be a little braver than I was before I met you one night on the D train many years ago.

Contact: holycity@juno.com

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update 21 December 2011

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Related files: More Hugging  In Confidence On the Passing of Rich Bartee  TESTAMENT  For Rich Bartee  Tribute to Bartee A Light in the Tunnel

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