for James David Dickey, 3/3/1966 – 10/22/2008
Was it you I saw, you full-figured soulstress, in the skinny white boy
of my brother? Was it the way he threw back his black hair,
messing around, singing, “can I get a witness? A witness!”
He never listened to a bent dime of the blues, didn’t dig the Dead,
the Grateful Dead, whom you called the greatest American band.
(Now that I’ve lost someone close do I really understand their name.)
Raised on heavy metal and hard rock, he would’ve mocked you
had I asked him to listen to the emotion in your voice. Still, he sang
the workingman’s blues, knew how it was to wake up ankle-swollen
from walking on pallets, sore from unloading trailers so deep
no light shines in their corners, save the dim light from the dock
where he emerges, dust-covered, with the last stack of boxes, at last.
You broke the fourth wall wherever you went. Women eagerly walked
through your dark alleys. Men wanted to kick your ass for stealing their dates,
but would end up buying you drinks instead. You played award-winning roles.
When you fell, the whole world looked upon you with an actor’s distant gaze.
Our hands reached down to help you: sometimes one, sometimes none.
Each time, you sold the performance so convincingly. Human kindling.
We gave you money, cigarettes, the keys to our cars. Once you fell on a woman.
But she moved when you were in mid-air. She didn’t want to catch you after all.
And why would she? You were a house on fire. You the roof, she the floor.
Save the floor, save the home. You collapsed in a conflagration.
Each time I see you on screen, I see how you would have lived your life.
Here you are stuck in a canyon, here, you’re in love with a ballerina.
Men cry from the grave while they still live
and now I am this dead man’s voice,
stammering, a little in the earth.
from For James Dean by Frank O’Hara
Being chiseled from the rock was your undoing. Chips and dust
hung in sunlight, driftless, left a bitter taste on our tongues.
Racing is the only time you felt whole. Driving fast made drunk girls laugh,
tight corners, they’d fall on your lap with just a flash of your smile.
You wore movie titles like leather jackets with many zippers.
A giant, you died east of myth. You didn’t see yourself crashing
as you were crashing. In slow motion. Will I find you in Fairmount, Indiana
where a man in black asked to trade his collar for your jacket? Will I find you
on the roadside at that blind intersection, a shadow cast by shadow?
At the crash site, I climbed into the wreck to pull you back. Your burnt skin
already turned to dirt, my own hands grasping a rasp and a hammer,
and only then do I remember, I remember, I remember you are no longer here.