Monday, April 12, 2021

Two Songs with a Poem In-Between, in memory of John-Frederick Williams

 please watch & listen to the video.


1. “The Sweetest Sounds”


2. A Stripped-to-the-Skin Singularity


In Mourning for John-Frederick Williams


Which was your truest New York?

Was she utterly like, or utterly not

likd her clamorous claims to fame?

What was your newest New York?


Does one have to become certifiably

something requiring rehab to prove

that one cannot imagine inhabiting

anywhere else on the planet but here -


in her gut, breasts and testicles, penis,

vagina and sinuses - all of her vast

and celestial variety, emptiness, fullness

and grief, thereby finally in a position


to earn a satiety all of her lovers must learn

she can lend in a breath - sending each

of us harrowingly and hilariously

into what, after all, we discover is death?


She was a bitch, and she’s a bitch still.

She’ll randomly keep you alive, or kill.

But she burst your strife into glorious life:

And you burn more brightly than I ever will.


This is a poem I posted probably too hastily during the last day or two of John-Frederick’s life, knowing he’d be gone soon, but wanting to write it in time possibly to read it to him while he was still breathing, albeit in a coma, in his Mt. Sinai hospital room up on west 114th Street. But I didn’t read it: I don’t think I had the balls to read it to him. His partner was there and I didn’t want to disturb him, which was probably silly because his partner had to have been as tough as John-Frederick was, so he would have borne whatever piddle-paddle I had to say. But I still didn’t read it aloud there. And I always read my poems aloud to John-Frederick; he was such an enthusiastic audience. He thought I was much better a poet than I ever would esteem myself. But the fun of it arose from his perfect understanding of what I was doing. Which was basically being funny, or trying to be. Or at least having fun. He knew all the pulse points – his, mine, and those of everything living. I won’t go on about him now because it’s still too early and I don’t know what to say.

I did however know what to sing, this afternoon. Or any rate convinced myself I knew, this afternoon, why I wanted to sing “The Sweetest Sounds”, which opens this cobbled-together business, and “Softly, as I leave you” which will close it. Karaoke background shamelessly exploited. “Sweetest Sounds” is a charming song written for “No Strings” – music and lyrics by Richard Rodgers: it’s lovely to experience him as both melodist and lyricist. It’s among his best songs. A little thing with a capacious heart. “Softly as I leave you” was written by Tony DaVita (music) with lyrics in Italian by Giorgio Calabrese, translated into English by Hal Shaper. “Sweetest Sounds” is about a life not yet lived, but hoped for; “Softly, as I Leave You” tackles a striking notion, that these are the thoughts of a man dying who wants to spare the love of his life the pain of having to watch him fade from life into death. It’s an extraordinary premise, and it gets into my brain almost virally. It asks us to be this dying human being, and to feel as our last conscious experience in the last breath of our mind the whole giving miracle of loving. I think they’re extraordinary songs, and they came to me this afternoon as the only means I could imagine of saying what still seems to me this moment between life and death is for me – not just because of John-Frederick’s death, not just because of more than a year of feeling half-buried in this Covid Era of Erasure, not just because I will become 70 years old in about three weeks, but because I apparently need sounds and words and behaviors to manage at least for a moment the unorderable, the unfathomable, the unforgiving obstinacy of Existence, with its complete refusal to tell us why. Why what? Why anything.


3. “Softly, as I Leave you.”


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