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memorial (text)

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That year I moved to New York
I was twenty-one,
slept on a rice straw mat
covered with a blanket,
thinking myself some
modern-day stoic. I
felt the cold air slip through
the old linoleum floor—
they called it the worst
winter in twenty years—
in a drafty apartment on
158th and Amsterdam.
My bones ached against each other,
I would wake up paralyzed by pain
from old accidents and
the stress of a new city;
I couldn’t even get up to piss.
My roommate and I didn’t want to pay
$600 to heat the apartment with gas
so we used space heaters;
but he had a real bed,
would surf Montauk in January,
leave the apartment wearing
a light jacket and vans in a snowstorm,
and I would sit in Riverside Park,
watch the sun set over New Jersey
with new friends, drink more wine
than I was used to; it helped for
a few months, until I was crying
because I couldn’t forget what
I wanted so much to forget.

So I did what I always did,
tried to distract myself
from pain, as I remembered
my father sitting on the back porch
with his black coffee and cigarettes,
his musician friends coming over—
they’d all hangout there, share stories,
play the guitar that leans against the wall
in our living room now, a few blocks
from where we all lived together, because
back then, he had his music to take the edge off
and not much else,
and he stood in our kitchen
having lost one more tooth—
they were just falling out at that point,
but this was worse, one of those
big buck-teeth in the front of his mouth.
He wore that ugly stained bathrobe
he rarely got out of anymore,
standing under the cabinet
that he kicked one night
when he tired of hitting his head on it—
he had printed out a piece of paper that read,

                             Construction
                                   Under

and taped it over the hole,
six feet in the air.

They said we were too alike,
but he had run away by that age,
slept on the stages of gaslights
in the Village, let his talent and
looks and arrogance take him,
and they said he could sing
whatever they asked him to sing,
and he could do it fucking well.
And I remembered all his memories too—
signed to Atlantic, playing with Syd Barret,
that time Janis came to see him
and he didn’t feel well,
said he couldn’t go on;
she wouldn’t have it,
so she poured him a glass
of Southern Comfort,
and he sang his heart out.
But his teeth were falling out now,
from the pills he took for the pain,
from the hep-c, from too much
for too many years, and standing there
under the cabinet, tears swelling in his eyes,
I gave him a hug,
told him it would be okay,
and we both knew it wouldn’t.

It was the way the joggers found him
in the morning, lying on the ramp
of a lifeguard tower with a bullet
he’d put in his head
after he wrote that he didn’t want to be
a burden anymore, but I don’t
think that ever goes away;
it just took me a long time to see
that he never stopped loving us either.