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This is Jacket 12, July 2000   |   # 12  Contents   |   Homepage   |   Catalog   |

Allen Brafman

Paul Blackburn — A Few Words

Paul Blackburn was a man    .   is a man
is dead    .   a man is      dead  .   don’t talk about
a dead man
living      is
not living  ,  man  .   your
i    what    you’re          where’s
anger  ,  man
your sorrow    .   what
can you      do about
your pain      .     what  . you
must              do          .         do
nothing          .         you
must    do
  be dead    .
be dead      you

Paul, I have never thanked you properly for the kindness of lending me your bicycle, the one without brakes, after you broke your arm chasing curves down a mountain without brakes, so I could go up that same mountain without those same brakes and try to come down with nothing broken of mine of consequence. I have to thank you twice. Once for the bike. Once for the absence of brakes. I can never repay. You.
    Joan called, said Fathead and Bitch made kittens. Edith said get one. When I came over, you had resurrection on your mind. All you would talk about was the bear coming out his cave in spring. The kitten you suggested, black and scrawny, didn’t make it. Edith said I’ll go myself, get another. So she did. I don’t know what the two of you talked about. I think Edith said you were dangling out the window, shouting or looking for something. Or you were in somebody else’s apartment, trying to figure out how Edith got there. Edith was trying to figure out how come the furniture didn’t look familiar. “What happened to all the old furniture,” she finally asked. You were both puzzled. Edith came home with two. Kittens. Asparagus, the one more Siamese, lived almost forever. The other one, the black one, Himtoo, lived long enough. Thank you for the kittens. The cats.
    Thank you for reading to me, showing me how Oppenheimer and Snyder, who were nowhere near one another, were both poets. Thank you for Ferlinghetti. Thank you for the mountain, going up and coming down.
    Paul, you were always way ahead of most people, but mostly you never let that kind of thing go to your head. You were also frequently way ahead of yourself. “We are all beggars when it comes to love,” doesn’t leave any wiggle room. Never speak easily of the dead. But if you must, if you must say something, let the first word always be Paul, the name of the person who is missing, who is gone.
    If it is about somebody else, it might be about Carlos. Carlos Blackburn is a tribute to his father. A great sadness and tragic loss they barely met. Paul Blackburn, the same fellow who wrote “clickety-clack / Horseman, pass by,” and successfully escaped Coney Island with his skin, would years later imagine a financial plan for his newborn son, Carlos T.
    Paul, you couldn’t manage to get the envelope with the check in it into the mailbox. Between the kitchen table and the postage stamp, on the way to the post office, the envelope with Carlos’ future financial security made some kind of turn on its own and gone. Later, you got the second check in the second envelope into the box the second time. You couldn’t always do what you made up your mind to do the first time.
    The matter of fact cat with the looking-for-trouble twinkle who didn’t seem to care was more than half persona. You wrote the way you spoke because you were inventing yourself along with your poem. And so, as well, you spoke the way you wrote. A scholar to the end. And a small gentleman. Thank you for talking with me, drinking with me driving, times we both knew better than to drive, wildly enjoying. What you could.
    Paul, thank you for telling about the width of the notebook you carried — different widths, you said, made for different kinds of lines, broke the breath differently. The shape of the page, you suggested, part of the shape of the poem.
    And The Journals. Especially The Journals, Paul. Thank you especially for The Journals. Thank you for showing how a poem may be made not only in time, but also out of the substance of time — a unique disclosure that a certain kind of poem may naturally emerge when there is a poet inside who knows how to merge with his poem. Not incidentally, the way you build out of time seems especially wondrous for a poet so fully a poet of place and dimension, a poetry so clearly compelled by the certainty of geometry. But that’s another story, Paul. Another time. Another place.
    Paul, I never did believe you — your story about worcestershire sauce, how the name came. But belief aside, or because of not believing, still today, I love them both — the sauce and the story. Twenty-nine years gone, counting. L’chayim. To Paul.

Allen Brafman lives and works in Brooklyn, a town Paul Blackburn joyously described as “a great place to hide out“. Sonnets from the Yiddish, a book of translation, will be forthcoming fall 2000 from The Elephantine Press, Maastrict, The Netherlands.

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