My Elegy for Mauro Parisi

(Late in 2004 I returned from a long stay in the Adirondacks to learn that Mauro Parisi had taken his life. I hadn’t known him well, but what I had known hadn’t prepared me for this news. In this elegy I recalled my two strongest memories of him.)

Mauro Parisi Left More Than His Bicycle

I. On Meeting Mauro Parisi From Cornwall-on-Hudson

Nothing like rage to push the lines forward,
I desperately hoped, days after my breakup with the cellist.
She’d read aloud her eloquent handwritten note,
then slapped my face with its lined paper.

Alone in my cottage, determined to finish my drafts
from hundreds of scraps, I sat rooted at the computer,
ignoring the doe at the window. It stepped forward
to nip the last lily, the garden’s silk trumpet of flame.

I didn’t care, not really, not until Mauro wandered
into my cottage. He’d shown his young daughter
the solar building next door, a site forever unfinished
with tar paper siding, gray insulation leaking like feathers.

But Mauro wasn’t a cynic. His chestnut brown eyes twinkled
with friendliness: he promised his daughter solar power
would one day run her computer, her headphones,
her hair drier, then let her romp in the yard.

In the tall grass she made her own trail. The doe and her fawn
stood upright to pick apples. Mauro asked what I wrote.
“Love poems,” I said, “especially to people I’ve hated.”
“Good,” he replied, “they need it the most.”

He bought my chapbook, my first fan in months.
I signed it to Mauro Parisi, Friend of the Earth.
“What a perfect place to write poetry,” he said.
“I only write when my life is a mess.”

II. Brotherhood of Poets
–Stitched on a Leather Jacket

On stage half-blinded by ceiling rack lights,
I stood at the mike, cold metal close to my teeth.
“Let me read every poet’s nightmare,” I announced
to the sparse crowd upstairs at Valentine’s,
a black cinder block club with one slab of daylight
thrown in the corner. I’d written an epic lament,
“Procrastination,” about surfing Web porn
for a specific blonde with a lizard tattoo,
then disconnecting, reconnecting,
finally receiving e-mails re: mortgages,
penis pumps, car tires, elk, a New Yorker cartoon
from an ex-girlfriend, “I’m told write what you know.
But all I know are writing workshops.”

Under the ceiling rack glare I saw Mauro
dressed for Albany Wordfest in impromptu punk:
a torn strip of police caution tape knotted
half-down his chest like a necktie after a brawl.
Yet Mauro listened, listened, swaying
to a beat in my lines. I’d written this rant
to exorcise my late mother drunk on vermouth,
phoning her demons to denounce Norman Mailer
for stabbing his wife: Authors never wrote anything nice.
Why couldn’t her son be a doctor, a lawyer, an actor on soaps?

In the sparse crowd I focused on Mauro alone,
trusting him to understand why I typed my mother’s
maiden name as my Web surfing password,
wanting him to believe I conquered procrastination.
My last stanza described ripping the modem
phone line from the baseboard like weeding a vine,
snapping off thumb tacks like thorns.
Freed of the Net I poured my hurt into poems.

Mauro listened, listened, fingering his caution tape tie,
half-lidding his eyes to picture my images.
Afterward he pumped warmth into my nervous cold hand:
how glad he was to hear a poem that jumped,
how tired he was of narrative logic.

Mauro, don’t walk that bridge.
Stay with us, stay with our festival of words.

III. Mauro Parisi’s Bicycle Found on the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge

Mauro, wait up! I’ll walk that bridge with you.
This time we’ll reach Beacon, a prison town I once learned.
At the train station taxi vans waited to ferry women
and children on visitors’ day, but the one I caught
dropped me at the base of a mountain, “Strange Mountain,”
I called it in a poem about the end of my marriage.
First, I met a yellow warbler singing under a power line,
its cinnamon striped chest runny as opera mascara;
then two vultures paired on a fire tower,
a fire tower that failed the grove of charred trunks.
But on an open rock crumbly with baked moss
I ate lunch and studied scarlet and blue dragonflies
filled with fresh injections of spring.

Mauro, I need to see you listening to my poem,
your half-lidded eyes hatching those dragonflies.

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