10 years ago today, a mutual friend called me early in the morning to let me know Christopher Lane had died. As I wrote 14 days ago on what would have been his 50th birthday, Lane and I were friends, enemies, rivals, collaborators and competitors. I wrote that we were often confused for the other by people in Sedona, mainly by older residents who met one of us -- as two 20ish/30ish slightly balding white guys with goatees who did slam poetry both named "Christopher" -- we were objectively very similar. They would ask me about his children thinking they were mine or ask him about my newspaper stories.
We had had a falling out in 2006 that we never really rectified. In February 2007, Sedona Monthly ran an article of Lane's franchise of the Alzheimer's Poetry Project and accidently ran my name instead throughout the story and in all the photo captions, to which I took great delight; the reporter had never met me but somehow confused us. Lane later visited the Sedona Red Rock News to tease me about it and congratulate me on the story about him.
By 2009, when I started host the new Sedona Poetry Slam, he was doing his own poetry events, working with youth at Sedona Red Rock High School and the Alzheimer's Poetry Project. I thought, and I think he have too, that we would some day make peace as we had more in common than not.
Sober for over a decade, went to his old stomping grounds in Dallas in 2012 and died later in Sedona from drug-related complications, 14 days after he turned 40.
Christopher Michael Lane
Aug. 5, 1972 — Aug. 19, 2012
Christopher Lane, 40, of Sedona, died unexpectedly at home Sunday, Aug. 19, 2012. Lane is survived by his wife Akasha, sons Oren, 8, and Zephryn, 3; mother Jo Anna Lane; sister Becky Sherrill and J.B., and their children Jennifer, Jonathan and Jordan; brother Eddie Lane II and Sue, their two children; and brother Stephen Lane and Tina, and their two children. Founder of NORAZ Poets, Lane joyfully worked with local high schoolers and Alzheimer’s patients spreading the healing power of poetry. A memorial is Saturday, Aug. 25, 2012, at 5 p.m. at Indian Gardens Park. Carpooling is mandatory.
Christopher Lane grew up in Dallas. His father Eddie Lane died while they were at a lake east of Dallas when Christopher Lane was 11. He wrote about it in the poem "This Arizona Red Dirt."
Lane worked to open Best Buy locations in the late 1990s. He and met one of his buddies from those days at a restaurant in Scottsdale where they rehashed the crazy things and drugs they did. Lane famously had to often clear his upper sinuses with this snort-inhale thing he did because the cocaine and meth had torn up the cartilage between his upper nostrils. Lane left Dallas to get out of the drug scene, moving to Sedona to live with family and detox, telling me later that if he hadn't, he would have died in Dallas.
In a weird karmic twist, I now live a few houses away from his relative's former house, in whose basement apartment he got clean and sober, though his relative lost it to foreclosure in the Great Recession, seven years before I moved into my now-house. Lane later moved into a tiny trailer behind and above Indian Gardens Cafe & Market and Garland's Jewelry Store in Oak Creek Canyon. He worked in the market, as a waiter at Garland's Lodge further north in the canyon was the de facto night watchman over the jewelry store, which had loads of silver and turquoise and, aside from Sedona Fire District Station 5, not another neighbor for miles. Every few months he had to scare away someone, though I don't think anyone every successful broke in.
I met him a short while after at the first few Flagstaff Poetry Slams at The Alley Bar, which has since gone through several incarnations before becoming Firecreek Coffee Co., on Route 66.
We were on the first Flagstaff National Poetry Slam Team in 2001, with slam champion Joshua Fleming, slammaster Nick Fox, hip-hop poet Eric "A-rek" Dye, and our beloved coach and future college professor Andy "War" Hall.
A lot of his history is in 2002 poetry book, "Who Is Your God Now?"
After a year as slammaster of the Flagstaff Poetry Slam, I toured the country for three months in the summer of 2002 with poet Joshua Fleming, playwright David Escobedo and singer and songwriter Keith Breucker.
|Judges at the Canyon Moon Theatre for a Sedona Poetry Slam|
We were going to compete for real, no holds barred, on Friday, April 23, 2004, at the NORAZ Poets Grand Slam at the Orpheum Theater, but Akasha went into labor with Oren.
"Christopher Lane and Akasha had a baby at 8:17 on Friday night, Oren Jacob Lane ... 7lbs, 9oz. Already has more hair than Lane, and his beard is coming in the same. Oddly enough, I hear he's already taller than Chris. I am a surrogate uncle. But it means he was out of the slam ...."
Then I wrote about my strep throat, adding, "by the Slam, I was feeling OK, more or less."
"More on the Slam later. Suffice it to say, the venue rocked, the audience was fucking huge, the host Bill Campana, feature (one of my best friends and former touring partner) Josh Fleming, calibrators Rebekah Crisp, John R. Kofonow, Dan Seaman, and Suzy La Follette, and slammers Justin "Biscuit" Powell, Sharkey Marado, Cass Hodges, Aaron Johnson, (and my NORAZ Teammates:) Brent Heffron, Logan Phillips, and Eric Larson were amazing. I was honored to share that stage. Everyone I know, poetry-wise in Northern Arizona was there, in addition to my Mom and step-dad Bill, and my Phoenician best friends Michael 'KuK' KuKuruga, Nikki Kaufmann, Kevin Crawford and his wife Erin Crawford."
"Oh, and I won the slam. By more than 4 1/2 points while everyone else was fighting for the 1/10ths of points between them. Whoopty-fucking-do."
Because what Lane and I wanted was a real head-to-head. But Lane clearly loved being a father to Oren:
In 2005, Lane made the grand slam. I took third, after Logan Phillips, but ahead of Meghan Jones and Aaron Johnson. Logan Phillips made a DVD:
NORAZ Poets won the Arizona state championship at the 5th annual Arcosanti Slab City Slam
The Arizona State Championship title has returned to NORthern AriZona. The NORAZ Poets won the Arcosanti Slab City Slam on April 28, by 16.5 points.
"That's two touchdowns and a field goal," Christopher Lane, NORAZ Poets executive director and Team NORAZ member, said.
The fifth annual Arcosanti Slab City Slam featured 10 teams from all across the state. The NORAZ Poets included three teams of four poets each. Team NORAZ, Team Prescott, Team FlagSlam, faced off against Team Tucson, Team Arcosanti, The Loose Nuts, Hangover Express, a third Phoenix team, The X-Hosts, a team of slam hosts from the East Valley of Phoenix and Team NORAZ's cross-state arch-rivals Team Mesa Nationals, who has won the last four This year's Mesa team includes Brent Heffron a member of the 2004 Team NORAZ.
The championship team consisted of 4 of the 5 members of Team NORAZ:
Christopher Lane, of Sedona
Meghan Jones, of Flagstaff
Christopher Fox Graham, of Sedona, and
Logan Philips, of Flagstaff.
Eric Larson, of Prescott, and a member of 2004 Team NORAZ
Patrick David DuHaime, of Prescott
David Rogers "Doc" Luben, of Prescott, and
Greg Nix, of Flagstaff
Aaron Johnson, of Flastaff, the fifth member of Team NORAZ
Kimmy Wilgus of Flagstaff
Rhett Pepe, of Flagstaff
John R. Kofonow, Slam Master of Flagstaff
The tournament consisted of all 10 teams competing in two preliminary rounds.
Christopher Lane, kicking off the slam with "if this poem," starting in the middle of the crowd and moving to the microphone as he performed. At the end of the first round, Team Mesa was ahead by a slim margin. But Meghan Jones' poem, "Where's Your Microphone?," a plea to the women poets in the crowd to become slam poets started off the second round with Team NORAZ in the lead, and the margin of victory only increased. Christopher Fox Graham's "We Call Him Papa" and Logan Philips' "The Boy's Pockets" cemented their lead.
As round two rolled around, Team Mesa came in fierce in the first slot. Team FlagSlam was in the third slot, followed by Team Prescott, and Team NORAZ in the sixth slot. Logan Philips started off with "Worth of Words," followed by Meghan Jones' "Patches", Christopher Fox Graham's "Spinal Language" and closing out the last round of the bout with Christopher Lane's "poetry is still."
The final bout would be the top 4 teams: Team NORAZ, Team Prescott,, Team Tucson and Team Mesa Nationals.
The night's poetry feature was Luke Warm Water, an activist, poet, epidemiologist an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota (Sioux) Tribe, born and raised in Rapid City, S.D. Author of John Wayne Shot Me, Luke Warm Water, has performed across the United States, England and Germany, in 120 venues within the last 4 years. He was preceded by 2005 NORAZ Poets semi-finalist Rowie Shebala, of the Navajo Nation.
Team NORAZ now had a comfortable lead of 12 points. The finals bout was a "feature" round for the team. Christopher Lane performed "for Jessica…". Christopher Fox Graham brought out perhaps the most anticipated poem of the night, "The Peach is a Damn Sexy Fruit." Meghan Jones, made the night a hot one with the sensual, sexy "Honey." The line "caramelize me," melted the audience in their seats. To top out the night, Logan Philips performed "La Viejita de Sonora."
In the end:
Team NORAZ 339.4
Team Mesa Nationals 322.9
Team Prescott 320.9
Team Tucson 315.6
The night ended with a bronze pour at the Arcosanti Bronze Foundry where the Arconauts created the 40-pound bronze trophy, followed by a fire performance by Flam Chen, and a huge after-party that rolled until dawn.
Note that NORAZ Poets, not just Team NORAZ won the tournament. Of the 40 poets who competed, 13 of them were NORAZ Poets. We are a community of poets, not just a team, and not individuals. The victory and the trophy represents our strength as a community, unified in our diversity.
The 16th National Poetry Slam was held in Albuquerque, N.M.:
|Logan Phillips, John Kofonow, Christopher Fox Graham, Meghan Jones, Christopher Lane and Oren, and Aaron Johnson at the 16th National Poetry Slam in Albuquerque, N.M.|
We were joined by a cadre of Flagstaff poets, including Rowie Shebala. I was made the temporary legal guardian of my 16-year-old friend Sarrah Wile for the week because she wanted to go and her parents trusted me and the other poets. As I spent a good portion of the nights buzzed or drunk, she babysat me more than I did her. I wrote it was then and still is "one of the best organized NPSes. All venues were within walking distance of the Hotel Blue. The hotel manager lost his job for what he allowed us to do, but won the Spirit of the Slam Award."
THIS POEM IS A TEST OF THE EMERGENCY BROADCAST SYSTEMTeam NORAZ 2005. 22junio2005. Assembled by logan phillips. Version 5.opening sales jargon, all poets overlappingLane:you want a candle that will burn for twelve fuckin years? We got that toolane starts ebs toneCFG:We got Abba Zabba, poets love that Abba Zabbacfg joins toneMeghan:Wheel of Fortune is taped on sight in beautiful California,where the women are cheap, the gas is expensivebut none of that mattersmeghan joins toneLogan:Beautiful uptown Sedona, Arizonaand more turquoise kokopellis than you could shake a camera atJust don’t forget to pay the fees to see the forestcan’t see the forest for the feeslogan joins toneAaron:It’s called Poetry Slam, now brought to you byAmerican Spirit tobacco, reminding you that Indians smoked tooPoetry Slam, institutionalized revolutionaaron joins tonefive count, then tone quits abruptlypoets snap to attentionAll:We inturrupt this slam to bring you a test of the Emergency Broadcast SystemCFG:The poets of your areaIn voluntary cooperation with authoritiesHave developed this system to keep you informed in the event of an emergency.CFG & Aaron:Remember, this is only a testLogan:But this is an emergencyLane:The poets of this room are not acting in concert with authorities.CFG & Meghan start tone againAaron:The Emergency Broadcast System toneechoes like aAaron & Logan:glass blasttone abruptly ends on ‘blast’Aaron:and wedding rings clashing.My father, pierced with pieces of beer bottleMeghan begins singing (from tone)Aaron:A pin cushion in the middle of the floor:A casualty of domestic violence,Reflected in the wide eyes of my sister.We ignore violence unless it is in our own home.Dialing 911 won't erase these memories.Aaron & Lane:THIS IS THE EMERGENCY!to officers, neighbors, and siblingscling to these precious angels.Lane & Aaron picks up tone from Meghan singingMeghan stops singingCFG echoes numbers while Meghan is speakingMeghan:Every 9 seconds, a woman is battered.95% of domestic violence victims are women.30% of adolescent relationships are abusive.Half of all rape victims are between 14 and 17Aaron joins toneLogan:nine one onenine one one (repeats)Aaron & Lane fade out tone as CFG speaksCFG:we replaced names with numbersprefixed people with dollar signsgrew entrepreneurial enterprisesinto economic empiresnow most of ushave never shaken hands with those we work forCFG & Meghan:our success is killing usCFG:still starving, it burst past bordersso no nation is safe from it nowCFG & Meghan:this is how cancer killsLogan:This is the emergency: we cut arts funding in schoolsand more children cut themselves down in schoolsThis lack of urgency is the emergency,Logan & Meghan:my mother leaving third grade after teaching for 18 yearsLogan:to teach kindergartenLogan & Lane:where there are no standardized testsLogan & Aaron:this poem is not a standardized testLogan & Meghan:this poem is not a third grader taking a testAll:this is a test of the emergency broadcast system.Lane:this is a repeat transmission. echoes of poets past.finding a wittier way to say,Lane & Aaron:"america, go fuck yourself with your atom bomb.",LaneagainLoganand againLaneand again.you media implanted switches. party people twitchin'Lane & Logan:on the next 'right thing to do' just broad-branded voodoo.Lane:poets, our podcasts need refreshin'. turn them into dust,somethin' i can touch, compost and bury.Lane, Meghan, CFG:results will varyLane:'cause a poet's death is in their wordsresurrectin'Lane & CFG:10,000 more poetsLane:to retransmit an emergencythat keeps emerging as if a new word could save us...againLogan:and againLane:and again...All, cascading:Poets have answers for everythingmelt down, all poets overlappingLane:who's that on the radio? is the a/c on? turn it down. i can't hear, 'drop it like it's hhhoooottt, drop it like it's hhhooott'.Logan:yeah i'll hold on. i can't hear you! poets are too fucking loud. is he speaking, i can't hear you. poets are too fuckin' soft.Aaron:i'll have a #6, medium size with season fries and a large dr. pepper. mayo on that...do you hear me...mayo muthafucka!CFG:yeah i said he said she said one minute 'til eBay auction closed! She said ‘I see you eyeing the grocery girls’Meghan:I mean what the fuck, America, when can I go to the grocery store and buy what I need with my good looks?overlapping stopsLogan:This poem is going to shitLane:Poets sayin the same ol crapAaron:Naw man, This poem isAll:a test of the emergency broadcast systemMeghan:Cardboard sapping the moisture from my palms.The society has created a caste system.Classes of the rich and barely getting by.Meghan & Aaron:ReligiousMeghan & Logan:and agnostic.Meghan & CFG:white,Meghan & Lane:black,Meghan & Aaron:brown.Meghan:You're looking for an emergency?How about the lack of common decency?It IS a civil emergency that we can't be civil to one another.When's the last time you fed someone elsewhen you could hardly eat yourself?CFG:underneath cotton and etiquettebehind cash registers and caution tapewe are hunters with memories of theCFG, Meghan, Logan:Serengeti,CFG:now in theCFG & Lane:United States of ArithmeticCFG:how many friends would you die for?All: I bet it's less thanCFG & Meghan:20Aaron:Naw, the emergency isDomestic abuseLogan:Naw, the emergency iscutting funding in schoolsCFG:Naw, the emergency isturning people into numbersMeghan:Naw, the emergency islack of decencyLane:I’ve heard this all beforeAaron starts toneLane:This is the emergencyLogan joins toneLane:everyone just trying to fix problems from behind a microphoneCFG & Meghan join toneLane:meanwhile, outside this roombeyond these walls it’s all really happeningtone endsLane:The emergency is us in here while this poem is out there.But don’t worry because this poemAll cascade ‘this poem’Lane & Logan:This poem is just a testAaron:We now return you to your regularly scheduled slam
The end of NORAZ Poets Slam Team
Lane "retired" from slam in 2006 and didn't compete for the team. The team was a mess with a clash of egos, two members quit and Lane suspended the slam team and kicked me out of NORAZ.
It was ugly, it was petty, there were five or seven of us ultimately who tore the team apart for stupid selfish reasons in a game of brinksmanship that ultimately meant nothing. I missed out on two National Poetry Slams in Austin, Texas. I can't get those experiences back. But I was 16 years younger and more foolish.
Some day, I'll apologize to Meghan Jones for what it's worth. Not for what was said or what we did to each other, which I'm certain we both feel was justified at the time, but for the damage we caused each other and our scene afterward.
We should have been better. I should have at least.
Thus began the Sedona Poetry Civil War, as one of our mutual friends called it in 2010. For the first year, I was "banned" from competing in NORAZ slams, but still went to a few in Flagstaff while avoiding those in my own town. I still co-ran a relatively popular open mic with Greg Nix at the Szechuan Martini Bar.
Greg Nix was the voice of reason for both of us, writing:
i have been bothered for months about what has been happening b/w two very good friends of mine. attached is a poem i think you should read, and below is a rant as well. i know of no other way to communicate my concern about this bullshit between the two of you than what follows. -gregfucks fucking sake. that's what i say to both of you. i love both of you. i wouldn't be a friend to either one of you if i didn't make an attempt at helping two friends with heads up their asses make amends.lane, its your organization. i absolutely respect that. i always will. i don't put an organization down as one of my primary beneficiares out of a sense of, well, lemme think, hubris? i think what you do to promote this art form as a participatory community function is amazing. fox, you're a mother fucking poet. end of discussion. i've always been taken aback by your words and your talent and i always will. you hold a position in this community that is respected and admired - else, you wouldn't be the person that you are. end of discussion.maybe to set it straight as to where "greg's coming from" - is this: i work in a field that brings me in to intimate encounters with the shit (on the walls, literally) and the misery and the disgust of human life that the two of you dance around. yup - that is exactly what i am saying. dance around. people are inherently flawed. people fuck up and make mistakes. the mistakes that the two of you make are nothing to the fuck ups and idiocy that i get to spend my working day dealing with. i deal with people who fuck up so bad that they might end up killing a child. either of you care to "whip it out" now?lane - you have created an organization that is bigger than yourself and you are continuing to learn how to manage that. fox - you can be an arrogant, shit headed asshole. actually - both of you are capable of this. so am i - so is everyone else on this fucking planet. lane has an organization he has created that, well, for better lack of terminology - feeds his kid. fox - you're too fucking full of pride to sit down and admit that you behaved in a manner that was immature and arrogant. both of you - take a bite of humble pie. trust me - it doesn't taste all that great, but it is something we all have to do from time to time. i have to do it quite often, so fuck both of you if you think are "too good to do so". you're not.as for why i decided to write both of you this email - all i can say is that you are both my friends. two of the best friends i have made in this world. on par with the two friends i have from childhood. i can't stand "watching from the sidelines" as you both endeavour to fuck it all up. i can't stand to sit around and listen to two people "posturing" over fucking bullshit. life is fucking short. you both are two great individuals and it pisses me off when i see two people who are such decent, good, moral individuals fuck things up because of the simple matter of pride.lane - you don't have a right to tell fox what to do.fox - you don't have the right to be an asshole to everyone.both of you are free to be pissed off and angry at me. i put up with it for a living - trust me, it doesn't bother me. seeing the state of affairs that you two are in, does bother me. please, sit down, and quit being angry and pissed of and hurt at each other. be friends and be adults.i love both of you,greg
On March 12, 2007, [Lane] called for a truce and we met in a neutral location at a restaurant [Reds at the Sedona Rouge] to discuss the terms.
"monday was the meeting between myself and christopher fox graham. and i have to say that it went very well.
as some of you may know, i attended a seminar over a month ago where i experienced the greatest love i have ever known. for sometime now i have needed to move to a greater level in my spirituality and this seminar did it. there i discovered that before any real healing takes place i had to get rid of the "stuff" that i owned, which really owned me. i mad a decision to come from a loving place in all of my interactions with people as much as possible, of course, i am only human.
with that, i also decided to come from a loving place in our meeting on monday. there i saw how sincere mr. graham is. i do believe now that mr. graham has good intentions in mind. there was much emotion exchanged. we expressed our feelings and came up with a way where mr. graham can be a part of NORAZ once again. attached you will find the new NORAZ Community Code of Conduct. we will have this for ALL of the poets that wish to perform in slam. please review. the Code of Conduct will be voted on as soon as we assemble our Slam Sub-Committee next week. if any of you have any concerns about the Code of Conduct please feel free to contact me or aaron johnson.
i came away from the meeting happy there was resolution. i feel confident in NORAZ's intention to make this community a more vibrant and expressive. i feel confident we as advisory board members will communicate to one another if any issues come up with anyone representing NORAZ Poets. but as all of us already know, professionalism is key.
again please review the Code of Conduct. if you have any questions about it please ask.
graham has assured me that if any issues come up for him in the future he will contact me directly. and i assured him i would do the same for him.
In the meantime, Lane apparently rethought trying to control all poetry slam events in Sedona. In April 2007, he wrote this:
|This was our last email about the NORAZ Code of Conduct|
We had some rough back-and-forths in the late spring and summer of 2007 regarding some Flagstaff slams. He was flippant, I was unrelenting, we were both unkind. There's no point rehashing those as they were just rhetorical nastiness. I regret that period as it set the stage for why we never reconciled.
first i want to thank everyone who has been part of my spiritual growth since i moved to sedona in august of 2000. since then i have achieved great things and it's been with the help of all of you. all of you showing up evening after blessed evening for slam poetry to experience the excitement, the drama, the catharsis. it was fun wasn't it?
so to most of you that truly know me will not be surprised to learn that i am letting the slam go at the canyon moon theatre. mary and i sat down and after her kind of listening only a dear friend could give decided to let our good memories of the slam ring in our minds. so how did this happen? how did christopher come to this conclusion?
after seeing the growth my wife experienced in her first year at the university of santa monica , i decided, "i didn't want to be left behind." so i too sought the place of her growth.
now we've traded positions. she's watching oren and i'm attending my first year of a two year masters program in spiritual psychology.
my priorities are spiritual growth, serving my family, and serving my community of friends.
i also came to the conclusion that "you can't transmit something that you haven't got." - wise words i've heard for years but never quite grasped. i feel one must focus in on the things that fill one's heart. so i choose the children and their ways of teaching me. and i choose the elders for the ways they teach me. everything in between is life.
and personally, the messages i hear in slam resonate a different frequency in me. i'm choosing to listen differently. my personal work and projects are important and quite honestly, i have neglected them for a long time. so i choose to have a new album coming out in the beginning of 2008 consisting of my poetry and music written and performed by my nephew, jonathan sherrill. and a couple zeppelin covers. ;)
now after seven years of living in sedona, i am changing again. and i love how i can tell all of you this because i hold each of you with great joy and "in the knowing."
although some of you may be bummed that the slam will not be at the canyon moon theatre anymore, i am proud to announce a new event combining poetry and music making a new class of spoken word come alive. on friday, january 25th Blues Dawgs (myself and joe neri and his band, blues dawgs) david mills and gary every (Mighty Minstrels) will give sedona something they've never experienced. i hope all of you will give it some serious thought and join us that evening. we promise to make it fun!!
so there you have it friends. i felt all of you should be informed. if you still crave the poetry slam, check out the one aaron johnson, our assistant director, hosts every wednesday evening at the applesauce tea house in flagstaff (213 So. San Francisco st.) he has a regional or national touring slam poet every week that will rock your world! plus i'm sure someone will start up a slam again in sedona sooner or later.
again, thank you. i hold all of you dear to my heart and hope to see or hear from you soon. the following is few other places you can catch what i'm up to, but if we run into each other around town, that's even better:
i just wanted to to acknowledge you on your new position!! congratulations!! i heard your reading at rochelle's memorial was a smash! great work!
I went to Canyon Moon Theatre and told the director, Mary Guaraldi, that I had been approached by Sedona Studio Live to start a poetry slam. With 10,000 people, Sedona can't handle more than one slam, so I gave Canyon Moon the right of first refusal. To her credit, Guaraldi said she was waiting for Lane to restart the slam, which he had ended in 2006 so she didn't want to commit. He was done hosting competitive poetry slams.
his name is OREN.
it's hebrew. look it up.
lumberjacking is the world’s most dangerous profession
falling trees and limbs slay lumberjacks at a rate
30 times higher than average
breaking bones a dozen times daily
these arms are not built to fell trees
these hands not built to wield axes or chainsaws
I am no lumberjack
but I know the sound of a tree falling in a forest
we do not know how many died
to build this stage
to erect these room
to raise this roof
poetry is the world’s most dangerous art form
suicide and addiction and overdose slay poets
at a rate not measured by the Bureau of Statistics
because we do not list "poet" as a profession
no matter how deep is in our bones
but I am a poet
these arms were built to climb trees
these hands to wield pen and microphone
the sound of a poet falling in a forest
sounds so much like a tree
even the Earth can't tell the difference
we do not know how many died
to raise this roof
to erect these room
to build this stage
I know no dead lumberjacks
but if I were to inscribe the names of all the dead poets
this body would be inkwell:
one drowned in the heat of lonely city
swallowing pills to stay afloat
one who found refuge in a bottle
until his liver took his heart in the divorce
one who shotgunned the worst of him
across pages of the best of him
one with the Will of a Haymaker
now Basquiating himself
with a heroin needle
refusing to hear us say "stop"
one who swam into the river
never intending to reach the far shore
one who took us "Up"
but only if we said it with him
one whose rooftop heart
can only be seen from So-Hi
one who conquered oceans' depths
to swim with men in grey suits
but died in the desert
one who relived his golden age
overdosing on methadone
one who named his son Oren
and told us to look it up
wrote that one day his son would fall,
but a poet would there to catch him
and another poet
I know no lumberjacks
but I know they must weep like I do
whenever these names come flooding back
we do not build furniture or homes or monuments or empires
tangibility that can exist without the living
we only leave behind our words
which yellow and age over time
only existing if we read or speak them
but there are too many words now
and not enough time
and I'm beginning to forget
and there's no one here to help
lumberjacks take refuge in the woods
work beneath the leaves
take revenge on the limbs and trees
that slew their brothers
but we poets have nowhere to go
but back to these pages
to these microphones
to these slam stages
where we pour out our rage
it's why we're always shouting
a Dead Poets Society
is trapped in our throats
I'm not even supposed to be here
there's too much sin,
to be a Speaker of the Dead
to bear this burden of survivor
I am the Devil's bad luck
and the Grim Reaper's off days
I am tired of burying our dead
of toasting our fallen as conquering heroes
of retelling all the same old stories
to those old poets who can remember
before the needle drained
the pills slowed
the bullet shattered
the depression became too much to bear
I am tired of telling new young poets
about who came before
or how their newest stanza
can make me weep
because it sounds so much like someone
they can read but never meet
they don't need this added weight
while learning to fly
I am tired of telling still-living poets
with one foot in the graveyard
and one hand on a needle
that I don't deserve to outlive them
one poet named his son “Pine Tree” in Hebrew
wrote that one day he would fall
I am no lumberjack
but I will ready to catch him
because a poet said to
I can build nothing
this is a promise I can keep
and my final poem about Lane:
By Christopher Fox Graham
decline the autopsy report
instead remember him
as a photograph,
a memory of frozen time
of some long, far-off roadtrip
when you got too drunk to navigate
in the right
and he carried you
shoulder to shoulder
back to the stranger’s sofa
if curiosity or some sense of honoring the dead
sways to accept,
ignore the REPORTED CIRCUMSTANCES OF DEATH
you already know the date
seared into your skull
turning mind to tombstone epitaph
make note of the time
always in military notation
“in his residence”
“by his wife”
and you can count the minutes
292 minutes exactly from discovery to notification
does not describe the man,
no, he is internal
the external is the zippered bag
which carried him
394,494 is an even composite number composed of four prime numbers multiplied together:
2 × 3 × 37 × 1777
the mnemonic device is easy to compound
2: the number of his children
3: the number of his survivors
37: the age he was when you last spoke
1777: the Battle of Saratoga
because you were never certain if you were his Benedict Arnold
or he was yours
CLOTHING AND PERSONAL EFFECTS
are the inconsequential pajamas
the kind he always wore
when you drank coffee
and his wife made breakfast
the wedding band
devolved from its sacraments
now just “a white metal ring”
divorced from its vows
“with black paint”
“on the left ring finger”
you remembered when he swore those vows
on the grassy lawn in Oak Creek Canyon
you kept the black kippah from the service
though you have never been to a Jewish wedding since
EVIDENCE OF MEDICAL INTERVENTION
will not express the failure in the hands of the paramedics
who knew him from the grocery store
or saw him in the newspaper
the paragraph only notes the remnants
of the attempt to stop this destination
on the lateral aspects of the torso
EKG pads on the deltoids
bilaterally on the medial aspects of each leg
there is no followup paragraph
describing how the firefighters told his sons he was gone
you will not find footnotes describing the wail of his wife
how the glass in the house reverberated
EVIDENCE OF INJURY notes the “¾ x ½ inch abrasion
over the lateral aspect of the left knee cap”
but will not state that it was from a last moment with his boys
playing in the yard
the injury will fail to describe this as
the last memory of them in sunlight
SCARS, TATTOOS AND OTHER IDENTIFYING BODY FEATURES
measure the weight of lines and cuts
ink and healed wounds
a 5 x 1/8 scar curvilinear scar on the posterior parietal portion of the scalp
was unhidden by his shaved head
the report omits the motorcycle accident
that caused the oblique scar
adjacent to the superior margin on the left clavicle
you will have to remember he always told that the same way
like a goddamn war story
how the bike went down on the asphalt
the drugs in his system
which kept him alive and unfazed
until the paramedics arrived
not like this time
the report will note the tattoo of what “may be a Chinese character”
on the upper right pectoral area
there will be no attempt to identify the language
but the examiner overlooked the bulldog tattoo
the guardian hound on his forearm
earned in the Texas National Guard
shared with his brothers in arms
the GENERAL EXTERNAL EXAMINATION notes
compatible with the reported age of 40 years
body is 66 inches in length and weighs 128 pounds
there is no notation indicating the change from his birth certificate
facial hair: goatee
the teeth and natural and in good condition
there is no mention of the words they once held
the trachea is in the midline
no comments made about the force of breath
per line or stanza
the fingernails are intact
there is no measure of the layers of ink that have been buried beneath them
no commentary in how the fingers worked a typewriter
the impression of keys in the fingerprints
the soles of the feet are not remarkable
the report says
but they are, remember
when you got too drunk to navigate
and he carried you
shoulder to shoulder
back to the stranger’s sofa
the soles of the feet are goddamn saviors
and they kept you alive more than once
involves a Y-shaped incision
the examiner calculates a 340-gram heart
which, must be noted, is larger than average
but you knew this already
despite his 128 pounds
he had the heart of giant twice his size
it will be a dead weight in his chest that you cannot restart
no matter how much you want to
FINAL SUMMARY is a misnomer
it has no measure of the man
it only states the cause of death:
benzodiazepine and narcotic intoxication
it will make no commentary on his fatherhood
it will offer no final weight of his impact
it does not calculate the number of poems written
nor left unfinished
it will not say if he wanted to forgive you
for all the unkind words you spoke to each other
nor will say he wanted your forgiveness
so you could be brothers again