In my late teens I was pretty obsessed with the writing of Raymond Carver and others in the “Northwest School.” I think it was the bare minimalism of the writing plus the fact that it so accurately described the bleak but beautiful parts of the west coast that my family had found their way to.
There are a few famous people who have died where I can remember exactly what I was doing, but I do for Raymond Carver. Even more memorable for me, however, was having just turned 21 sitting in a square in Oaxaca reading an article in Harper’s by Tess Gallagher about their love, which they found fairly late in their lives. The article was about their relationship, his death by cancer, and for me a bit about what drives creativity. Attached to the article was a small poem written by Raymond Carver.
Late Fragment:And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.
That poem had a massive impact on me. At that moment and for years to follow, it represented an understanding of real love that I hadn’t been able to understand previously. It was, for me, a poem of hope and joy. Later when I bought my house in San Francisco I wrote it in chalk on my kitchen wall. I never erased it actually having it present in a sense made it just a part of my life.
Years later, a year ago yesterday, my younger brother was killed in a brutal car crash. The days that followed were full of shock and pain. The ice storm that had contributed to the accident meant that it took two days to reach the small town on the Washington coast where my parents live. It wasn’t until my birthday, a year ago tomorrow, that we reached the town and the day was spent in total horror; identifying his body, digging through his destroyed car with a crowbar so that we could find his phone and notify his friends, things that were unimaginable to me previously. There was, of course, joy as well that comes from a small community reaching out in ways that you cant imagine. Odd moments of love and tenderness that really are kind of impossible to imagine more beautiful because of their humor sometimes.
That night David and I were back in a hotel room out on the farthest reaches of the dunes, the ice storm had reduced to just gail force winds and it was easy to believe that the small building we were in would be wrapped up by the storm and taken out to sea. David and I sat on the bed with my computer trying to find a photo of my brother that would do justice to the life he lived and could be used as an image in the invitation to his memorial service. We knew it had to be a picture of him cooking because the earliest photos of him show that he had always lived with food, we wanted joy and something that showed his unique humor.
The first photo that we really found was the one. It was an image of my brother in my kitchen in San Francisco from the Thanksgiving two years previously. He’s cooking, looking back at the camera with a wry, proud and sweet smile, hands in some kind of preparation mode and behind him is a fragment of the Raymond Carver poem that was inscribed on my kitchen wall. The fragment of the fragment read: “beloved on earth.”
A year has passed and its had a lot of fairly tremendous changes for David and I. A lot of the changes coming out of reflections on the death of my brother. I’ve left the San Francisco house behind (poem still on the wall last I saw.) David and I have moved from California to New York, we live together, jobs have changed its simply been a year if tremendous change.
The last couple of days I’ve found myself thinking about Raymond Carver’s Late Fragment and wondering what it means to me now. It was always a poem about loss but I never saw that in it until a year ago, I had only seen hope. Now when I think of that poem I cannot help but think of my brother. It seems to me that it sums up maybe the only desire you might have for a young life, for a young man that died way before anyone could imagine possible. I hope, maybe I pray, that what is expressed in the poem was true for him, was the way he felt, and that maybe there was one day in his life where he could step back and realize that what was expressed in that poem was true for him.
He was and is “beloved on earth.”
This lovely poem was given to me by the late night desk clerk at the hotel im staying in at mit square. Ive received upgrades, gifts, letter and drinks from hotels but nothing ever as lovely as this poem based on her association with my name:
Dust always blowing about the town, Except when sea-fog laid it down, And I was one of the children told Some of the blowing dust was gold.
All the dust the wind blew high Appeared like gold in the sunset sky, But I was one of the children told Some of the dust was really gold.
Such was life in the Golden Gate: Gold dusted all we drank and ate, And I was one of the children told, ‘We all must eat our peck of gold’.” —Robert frost
Hong Kong is one of the only cities I can think of where its as exciting to sit back and look at it as it is to be in the middle of it. I think there may be no better place than Sevva next to both the old and new Bank of China buildings. You sit in the middle of the city watching bankers rush around sometime pausing only to watch you on the roof-top across the way. Its a unique and rare vantage point on a city of tremendous layers and topography.