THE LAST TIME I SAW HIM
for K.C., 1939-1984
he was shining, giving off his own cool light. Stopped by my office on the
way to the airport, to Italy, a lover's villa though I didn't know that
then. Tall, slim, he filled my doorway with his smile, transforming the
ugly overhead fluorescence with his silver-gray silk suit, his one-way
shades, his silvery long blond hair.
Late April, 1984. I didn't know he was sick.
He'd quit his job. He wrote ad copy, was good at it, but he was
poised on the brink now, moving on to better things. Wish me luck, he said,
and I did, and hugged him. Then he was gone. I didn't know that either,
then; didnt understand the meaning of gone. His shining presence
there and then not there. The doorway empty.
There's a rose he loved, tawny gold in the bud, opening to cream,
each petal edged with gold. I saw him give one to a lover once (though I
didn't understand, then, what it was that I had seen). A bud just opening;
I saw him tuck it with long cool fingers under another man's leather
I'd like to have given him roses, but I didn't know he was sick.
Didn't know for years that he had been sick, that he had died, or what of.
We didn't stay in touch.
My childhood friend, my two-years-older idol -- a gangly
bright-haired kid who lived on saltines and peanut butter and grape jelly,
who played the piano late, late into the summer night, windows open so that
from my bedroom across the street I could hear the Schubert and Chopin I
had asked for. My personal music box, I thought. Better than the radio. He
dreamed even then of fame, world travel, heads turning as he passed.
We smoked our first cigarettes on the flat spot on the roof over
his garage, got drunk on brandy and bourbon from my father's liquor shelf,
published a neighborhood newspaper one summer that brought Johnny Baggett's
mother running -- our first brush with censorship. He showed me his, I
showed him mine; we practiced swearing, taught each other dirty words and
jokes and told each other lies. In high school, he had a flying sky-hook so
slick the black kids let him play. Pale hair flying, soaring high above the
dirty asphalt playground, long cool musician's fingers arching the ball
high above the rim swish! into the net and high-fives all around.
Joking but not-joking: "You'll see my face on a Wheaties box one day." No
more Mozart. It was fame itself he wanted, and he was so talented in so
many areas it seemed all he had to do was choose.
Luminescent in my doorway on his way to the airport, to Italy and
the short rest of his life, he spoke of the collection he was working on,
the poems that would earn him a place among the hot new writers, the ones
he called Young Turks. Joking, not-joking: "I'll be a household word."
I laughed: "Your face on a Wheaties box?"
He cocked eyebrow, grinned, gave me a wink. Flat office light
shimmered on his hair and the shoulders of his suit as he leaned in. "Why
Then he was gone and to the best of my knowledge his book didn't
happen. Today I mourn the rim-soaring villanelles, the slam-dunk sonnets
and sonatas and rhymed couplets I never got to read; the head-fake sestinas
and flashy behind-the-back jazz-riff passes, the bright shining presence
bringing crowds to their feet, shouting and shouting his name.
--Sara McAulay (1996)