My friend poet Harvey Goldner, like the Buddhists say, crossed to the other side this morning in Seattle, Washington. He was 65 years old, a few months older than me. In my May 14 blog I talked about the cancer in his mouth and tongue. He really never recuperated from his surgery. This last week must have been hell, and he simply and finally let go. His friend, poet and painter Crysta Casey wrote me a note. Crysta also did this portrait of Harvey.
I’ve known Harvey probably since first grade at East High School in Memphis, Tennessee. He lived on Reese Street, and I lived a block over on Prescott Street. We had secret trails through backyards to go from one house to another. We smoked our first cigarettes together, we got drunk together as kids, our sisters were best friends, he first showed me about poetry in the late 1950s, over the years we had our battles and our struggles, we got lost one to the other, but these last few years we touched base again, grasping for each other in an old man clumsy sort of way. An old deep friendship. Cinco Puntos is going to publish his book of poems The Resurrection of Bert Ringold in September. The project has been looming in my mind for a number of years, but I kept pushing it aside, one of those regrets that keep recurring the older I get. I hope to go to Seattle for the first celebration of the book and meet his daughters Emily and Amy and his friends in the underground poetry scene of Seattle. During the next week or so, I will write my own obituary for Harvey, but in the meantime, I simply make a simple wish: May my friend Harvey Goldner rest in peace. Here's the title poem from his collection.
The Resurrection of Bert Ringold
There is a time to dig, there is a time
to dig up the dead, a time to cut away
the surface—the sweet green grass
and the pink and white flowers
finicky in the fresh morning breeze.
There is a time to get down, to hack
at the clay with a pick, to lift the
backaching dirt with a rusty shovel,
to lift big rocks—barehanded, fingers
bleeding—a time to chop through the
roots of trees with a Boy Scout hatchet.
Salt sweat stings your eyes and
the air smells bad, dead.
At sunset your pick hits the casket.
The sound is final, dead.
It’s going to be a nightmare in there.
You imagine the worst: bones
smirking through rotten flesh, busy
But you go on anyway
because you can’t turn back.
With a childish prayer and a crowbar
you pry open the lid of the casket.
Inside, a nice surprise: inside there is nothing
but a diamond, a crystal as big
as a Civil War cannonball.
It shines from within, it dazzles your eyes
like late afternoon sunshine blazing
on the Mississippi River, once upon a time
between Memphis and Natchez.
It must be worth millions.
You carry it home in a brown paper sack.
It sits somewhat dull on your desk
while you imagine the things that you’ll buy
as soon as you’ve sold it: a car, a condo,
the Caribbean, a big bunch of girls.
Then the diamond as big as a Civil War cannonball
lights up and sings; it lights up and sings
English folk songs from the Southern Appalachians.
It sings them as sweetly as starlight
and you know in your heart that you’ll keep it
for as long as you possibly can.