Remembering Earl


There are nights when only the wolves are silent and only the moon howls.

George Carlin

My friend Earl died last night.  I feel the loss as the cold and darkness which comes when a bright light is extinguished.

I met Earl  in 1980.  Some of those who influenced him also became part of my life, others remained unknown.  In the main, the forces which shaped his life and made him the uncommon man he was would never be part of my life.

 He smoldered with a kind of rage he commanded to compel justice for  the underdog.  Appearing humorless to the passerby,Earl had a boundless sense of fun. Capable of enormous personal austerity, Earl was tremendously generous  to those in need, to those with want, in his family, to his friends, to those in his community, to those in his charge, to strangers, even at times, towards his adversaries.  His was not merely a generosity of dollars,but of spirit and heart, of time and thought, of physical labor and anonymous offering.

Through the years, I came to understand that Earl was not an acquired taste. He could be polarizing.  He was one of those rare individuals who remained fully and visibly himself.  One did not need to venture a guess as to Earl’s opinion,he would state his beliefs honestly and openly.  He despised hypocrisy. As such,he had his detractors; there were many who expected a more “diplomatic” man. But,  Earl was a flagrant progressive democrat in those long gone days when it was fashionable until the last moments of his consciousness, and proudly so.He simply could not be anything else.  Earl was authentic.  He lived in accord with his principles while living well.

In my life, Earl was like an older brother or watchful cousin, certainly more than a friend.  When we met, his life was settled and established, he with a daughter not much younger than myself.  Where his domain was neat, organized, structured, well regulated, predictable, mine must have appeared the opposite.  Yet, he took a chance  and  engaged me professionally, and then, more valuable, allowed me entry to his life.  Tonight, my heart is full of memories of dinners, and picnics,of Christmas celebrations.  I see Earl holding my babies with especial tenderness. I recall beaches, boats, fishing tackle and lengthy talks over cool drinks on hot summer nights.I remember weddings and parties and Earl cracking jokes on the dance floor, “Arthur Murray” he would tell me as he seemed to float past me on a cloud of air. I see his confused  concern that my “vegetarian ” dinner is tasty enough as everyone else dives into their prime rib.  I hear him telling me, “Good job Ma-tricia.” I miss him again and already and always.

Earl stands apart in my life with those few, exceptional and principled men  who distinguished themselves in all they did not least because they assiduously dedicated themselves to the welfare of their families: the love of wife and children was the polestar for every act.

I feel tremendously sad that Earl is lost to me. I sorrow for my remaining friends, his wife and children to whom his life was well and truly devoted.

It is not consolation for the loss but it is celebration of the life to observe that Earl’s great gift was living well. His was a life well lived in service to others,stranger and beloved, with humor, intelligence, emotion and grace through each phase of life.

Honoring his gift, Earl has left us a blueprint for living to which I hope we return.

Looking in

dance hall

I do not remember the color of the walls,

or whether  windows were squared or arched as light gained entry.

I cannot recall the height the ceilings reached,

but I remember feeling very, very small.

I see that place, always, on a grey day in winter,

when  naked sentries, aging walnut trees, tower and spill,

the grounds haphazardly attired with twigs and ice and remnants of decay.

The architecture arrests,

reaches towards the skies, billows towards the city,

soiled  white stucco, sandstone, a fortress,

here in this park of urban land:

a haven for the immigrants,

the wanderers, the homesick,

the ones who come and linger as though they  arrive from some other  time and world.

And for the likes of me,

the small and watchful child of such as these.

Though I tread lightly through these halls which echo


with a voice I cannot speak,

a tongue I do not know,

songs I may have heard, but with studied intent,  have not been taught.

I am like a shadow.

Or a figment.

This place is like a dream sometimes.

When I stand aside the squares of parquet that form the dance floor,

 smell the powder and the perfume and the pomade upon the heavy hair,

I hear the swish of the wide, swinging skirts, stiff silk swaying,

keeping time with the scratch of shirts, the slide of shoes,the faint tingle of jewels,

a underbeat to the third-rate band.

I see the faces, hot, red, still lined with worry,

though eyes are closed and lips control the smile;

Bodies, stiff and proper and respectful:


I see a swell of pride –

It courses through the sea of bodies, crammed together, so formal on that floor,

like a cold stiff wind, it invigorates, it braces.

I watch love, congealed and messy,

not a pink froth cotton confection tied with bows.

Not just age and generation,

not merely language and the style of speech,

more than jewels that sparkle,

or  a song list canon

or deportment –

I stand apart, because I am

Not truly one of them at all.



Of Boots and Children…

800px-Classic_baby_shoesI imagine, when I hear their words:  dusty, discarded boots strewn along an endless road that seems to lead into the haze of heat and clouds barracading the forward course.

I remember the sound of children calling across the macadam yard: “Michael,  Destiny, Isis, Caleb, Carmella, Jesus, Maria, Malik , Megan, Eduardo, Elijah, Emma…..”

I recall the frigid afternoon: “The Blizzard of the Century!”  Who knew those little feet could spawn such tumult, the thunder of their winter boots; the  children absconding to safety.

Today, the powerful promise , arranged, swaddled benevolently:  there will not be, not again, not this time! “No Boots on the Ground.”

(When they speak, we see again, thick fleecy  boots warming the feet of our young children)

Is  it the sound of their own voices, calibrated finely: sonorous and solemn in a perfect pairing, which so intoxicates them?

They devour their own edicts, attending  echoes in their own hearts and in halls both hallowed and profane, which swell the wires and the cables and the airwaves, saturating space and sight  not to trumpet the power or the virtue or the veracity or even the excellence of the affirmation but merely  the status and the singularity of the speaker.

Or, do the images they conjure so invigorate some latent propensity that vigor ejects all previous routine?  They are dazzled: shining shining weapons; deserts turned to clouds of fire; weapons wielding death  by expensive super-secret, software; covert victories in dark of night by classified, special forces.  They achieve  glory:  ” Innovators,”  “Leaders in military and strategic planning” “Wizard of the New Wars!”

As they repeat the promise of these bootless battles, their brains scheme victory banners, their aides conceive celebrations.

And listening but not quite understanding, we watch our daughters lace their shoes.

Never Never Never Call That Man a Peacemaker ….

Big Bad Wolves and outsized monsters stayed away from my childhood nightmares.  Instead, the gold streaked waters I played in by day transmuted into a murderous tidal wave and the ginger puppy from the house next store behaved as a sharp toothed executioner.  Still, a few deep breaths, re-orientation and peaceful slumber could be attained.

The fear and dread that lingered I encountered in the light of day.  Just briefly, the hateful screed of Ian Paisley accosted, until my parents, too late aware, ruffled, banished me to some safe spot. There the demon’s words, so sinister and malign, fertilized the seed of fear already in the Philadelphia air for those of color. Hate: dangerous new form of  speech, tactile, palpable in those times.   Mephistopheles had spoken.

To grow, to hope, to change. A narrative available to the most undeserving.

And so,  Paisley died a man saluted for a change of heart.  Cameras captured images: his hands outstretched and grasping the hands of those he had zealously christened “vermin”- their hands now  undistinguishable from his own.

So long as his was the titular “First” seat in government, above the “bloodthirsty monsters,” his colossal ego was soothed, his vanity sated. In the waning years of his turbulent public pursuits, he fashioned a more seemly costume.  Though who can judge his madness, his mission?”

The statesmen, and almost all men they are, call him Peacemaker,” Charismatic,” ” Shrewd,”Loved Elder Statesmana “Big Man with a Big Heart.”

And a big, venomous voice .  So many hearts long ago stopped beating in the conflagration of petrol bombs. More pump blood still through weary veins of bodies mutilated by the Troubles. And watch those impassive, static hearts maimed with the words bellowed long ago to a believing mind,  passed down to child, then to the grandchild, growing in the quartered streets still looking for the halcyon days long promised…

True, better that the thunder of his voice ceased its eternal shaming, vicious speech.  True, that voice  awakened the righteous that those  condemned   at dawn for faith or color or choice of loving partner could be freed from hate  and vitriol come sundown should  the zealots  by mere happenstance decree some new prey more worthy of pursuit. True, a hand stretched out in peace, however late, no longer fells or wounds those in its path.

But Never, Never, Never call that man a peacemaker. 05.41.142014-08-18 16.35.29


The disembodied voice proclaims the virtue of another star who discarded life like one more piece of outdated bling, not sparkling with sufficient dazzle when moonlight reached the designated spot at the appointed time in the summer sky.  

The car chugs through that part of town still smelling of the bacon fried on the greasy grill this morning, holding tight to the beer and vomit chucked upon the stairs last night or was it possibly the night before?

Its crowded corridors echo the voice of that man who professed cleansing light into these streets .

(did he promise? or did we  believe? did he assure?  or did we just imagine?)

From his unholy pulpit, without audacity, he blesses now –

not the life of the teen shot down by the law-man with a gun,

but the  suicide ringed with riches but living with despair.

And in these sweltering houses, in the thermal shops, on these misty corners, the grocer and the barman and the mother and the unemployed:

they all listen, and they are puzzled – as though he now speaks a foreign tongue.

The unarmed teen disobeyed police orders.  Ten bullets showered round him as he died on the street in mid america in light of day!

The suicide broke the same laws for which the grocer’s son and the barman’s brothers and many  husbands endured dark prisons and forfeited paths to riches the star has thrown away.

To live with darkness, to live with sorrow, to live with challenge.  Life exacts authenticity, endurance.

That we can embrace each light, remaining buoyant until each evening is mere fiction dressed up,  displayed  and peddled  as  precious precept: a dream, a mantra, a sharpster’s slogan until it collapses – sodden, sad, shaming, like the suicide or  broken promise of champions bygone.