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.


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.

Missing You

Sometimes, when deer and rabbit, raccoon and woodchuck recede within the generous mantilla of summer, and warbler and cicada celebrate the close of another day, the light that falls from that searing scarlet scalds my heart with the sadness of missing you, who first presented this array.

Scorch of fire as puckered lips graze the coffin; seething tears trickling onto steel; staggering, as strains of “Danny Boy” levitate above you (a tune you did not call an Irish air).

In the end, too true:  arid canon of cult, not creed, coheres the torpid keeners corroding your wonder.

Eyes reach no focus, colors run together; the  stranger  with fraternal blood, too cold, or suffocated in the sun,  speaks. That Holy Man,  the turnkey, postures with your offspring jailers; swelter, perspire, steadfast mien of heartbreak, every one.

The burned flesh on my heart, throbs and blisters. Pain pulsates with each steady beat. We love, we learn, we are often less than worthy.  The arabesque we make, so rarely fine.

In the sun soaked stillness of a summer evening, so many poses, so many words remain to speak.     2013-10-05 07.19.58








Remembering Judy

cropped-dscn0087.jpgMy friend died last night. I love her as I never loved a sister. She suffered a unfathomable illness with dignity and discretion for too long for me to say I am surprised today. No warning could ever have been enough to numb the pain of loss which follows the end of her ordeal.

I trusted Judith’s incredible wisdom.

The Dream

O god, in the dream the terrible horse began

To paw at the air, and make for me with his blows,

Fear kept for thirty-five years poured through his mane,

And retribution equally old, or nearly, breathed through his nose.

Coward complete, I lay and wept on the ground

When some strong creature appeared, and leapt for the rein.

Another woman, as I lay half in a swound

Leapt in the air, and clutched at the leather and chain.

Give him, she said, something of yours as a charm.

Throw him, she said, some poor thing you alone claim.

No, no, I cried, he hates me; he is out for harm,

And whether I yield or not, it is all the same.

But, like a lion in a legend, when I flung the glove

Pulled from my sweating, my cold right hand;

The terrible beast, that no one may understand,

Came to my side, and put down his head in love.

Louise Bogan from PoemHunters. com

She loved Jane Austen. The wonderful charm, wit and humor of Austen was shared by Judith.

I’ve a Pain in my Head

‘I’ve a pain in my head’

Said the suffering Beckford;

To her Doctor so dread.

‘Oh! what shall I take for’t?’

Said this Doctor so dread

Whose name it was Newnham.

‘For this pain in your head

Ah! What can you do Ma’am?’

Said Miss Beckford, ‘Suppose

If you think there’s no risk,

I take a good Dose

Of calomel brisk.’–

‘What a praise worthy Notion.’

Replied Mr. Newnham.

‘You shall have such a potion

And so will I too Ma’am.’

Jane Austen

Hours of conversation with Judith about the pitfalls of blind faith and the foundations of rationalism enriched our friendship.

“Faith” is a fine invention


“Faith” is a fine invention

When Gentlemen can see—

But Microscopes are prudent

In an Emergency.

Emily Dickinson

Even into the months of her illness, Judith and I enjoyed sharing the names of good books and even good awful books! Though the years, her crackling fireplace on a cold afternoon in the Vermont light or the gently rocking boat moored on a summer day were wonderful seats to enjoy literary companionship.

A Book

There is no frigate like a book

To take us lands away,

Nor any coursers like a page

Of prancing poetry.

This traverse may the poorest take

Without oppress of toll;

How frugal is the chariot

That bears a human soul!

Emily Dickinson

From my days as an “angry young woman” filled with an undirected sense of confusion at life in an unjust society, Judith spoke a language I admired and understood. She could flash out in anger. She had personally seen the destruction which the paranoia of power, anti-Semitism and greed wreaked upon a life. Generally, however, Judith advocated justice by living. When she took up a cause, she did so with grace and rational argument. Her passion for justice sparkled in her eyes. She taught me to understand and articulate what I had previously only felt. She taught me to feel that which I might unthinkingly articulate. Judith and I shared frustration that we seemed to be continually revisiting the same issues with little lasting progress. A rational realist, Judith continued her advocacy despite such incremental change.

As I Grew Older

It was a long time ago.

I have almost forgotten my dream.

But it was there then,

In front of me,

Bright like a sun—

My dream.

And then the wall rose,

Rose slowly,


Between me and my dream.

Rose until it touched the sky—

The wall.


I am black.

I lie down in the shadow.

No longer the light of my dream before me,

Above me.

Only the thick wall.

Only the shadow.

My hands!

My dark hands!

Break through the wall!

Find my dream!

Help me to shatter this darkness,

To smash this night,

To break this shadow

Into a thousand lights of sun,

Into a thousand whirling dreams

Of sun!

Langston Hughes

Judith appreciated diverse expressions of art, music and culture. We shared this as well.

I think over again my small adventures.

My Fears,

Those small ones that seemed so big

For all the vital things

I had to get to and to reach;

And yet there is only one great thing,

The only thing,

To live to see the great day that dawns

And the light that fills the world.

(Innuit poem, 19th century)

Judith turned to music and natural beauty when facing some of her own great losses in life and the darkest of her days.

I Am in Need of Music

I am in need of music that would flow

Over my fretful, feeling fingertips,

Over my bitter-tainted, trembling lips,

With melody, deep, clear, and liquid-slow.

Oh, for the healing swaying, old and low,

Of some song sung to rest the tired dead,

A song to fall like water on my head,

And over quivering limbs, dream flushed to glow!

There is a magic made by melody:

A spell of rest, and quiet breath, and cool

Heart, that sinks through fading colors deep

To the subaqueous stillness of the sea,

And floats forever in a moon-green pool,

Held in the arms of rhythm and of sleep.

Elizabeth Bishop

The solace which Judith found allowed her to continue her life of incredible achievement and genorosity. She lived each day expecting little but demanding from life the civility, beauty and joy which her world could give. She gave of herself what she demanded of others.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers


“Hope” is the thing with feathers—

That perches in the soul—

And sings the tune without the words—

And never stops—at all—

And sweetest—in the Gale—is heard—

And sore must be the storm—

That could abash the little Bird

That kept so many warm—

I’ve heard it in the chillest land—

And on the strangest Sea—

Yet, never, in Extremity,

It asked a crumb—of Me.

Emily Dickinson

Judith’s body betrayed her subtly at first, then loudly, creully, and finally vicously.

The Moment

The moment when, after many years

of hard work and a long voyage

you stand in the centre of your room,

house, half-acre, square mile, island, country,

knowing at last how you got there,

and say, I own this,

is the same moment when the trees unloose

their soft arms from around you,

the birds take back their language,

the cliffs fissure and collapse,

the air moves back from you like a wave

and you can’t breathe.

No, they whisper. You own nothing.

You were a visitor, time after time

climbing the hill, planting the flag, proclaiming.

We never belonged to you.

You never found us.

It was always the other way round.

Margaret Atwood

Flying Inside Your Own Body

Your lungs fill & spread themselves,

wings of pink blood, and your bones

empty themselves and become hollow.

When you breathe in you’ll lift like a balloon

and your heart is light too & huge,

beating with pure joy, pure helium.

The sun’s white winds blow through you,

there’s nothing above you,

you see the earth now as an oval jewel,

radiant & seablue with love.

It’s only in dreams you can do this.

Waking, your heart is a shaken fist,

a fine dust clogs the air you breathe in;

the sun’s a hot copper weight pressing straight

down on the think pink rind of your skull.

It’s always the moment just before gunshot.

You try & try to rise but you cannot.

Margaret Atwood

Judith did not lose her gift of friendship, her ability to love, her acute and precious mind.

Love is Not All

Love is not all: it is not meat or drink

Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain;

Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink

And rise and sink and rise and sink again

Love cannot fill the thickened lung with breath,

Nor clean the blood nor set the fractured bone;

Yet many a man is making friends with death

Even as I speak for lack of love alone.

It well may be that in a difficult hour

Pinned down by pain and moaning for release,

Or nagged by want past resolution’s power,

I might be driven to sell your love for peace

Or trade the memory of this night for food.

It well may be.  I do not think I would.

  Edna Saint Vincent Millay

At the end, it was excruciating for all.

No Choice

Six foot mounds stalk the fields

of frozen grass. Shrouded disc of moon,

almost full, lights the greying snows

which have lain too long under the veil of smoke.

The steady click, click, click of rain

splinters the silence of the February night.

Breathing, I am burned by the sharp 2 am air.

Too hard, too hard, too hard: say this will not be.

The kitchen at this hour blankets me in warmth.

The flames leap and dance to cast a glow about the room.

Seated in the settee I close my eyes,

No thing remains unmoved by the swaying world within.

Too quick signals from the brain are sent, collide.

Nausea, panic, rage propel me once more through the door,

Gasping in the dimness and the cold as if rising from the sea.

Too hard, too hard, too hard: say this will not be.

Across the road, a still doe looks towards me.

Her beauty is contained briefly within the night.

Suddenly, she vaults forward in the darkened world

that consumes the graceful form as though there had never been

so beautiful a creature; an anticipation of perfection;

the fulfillment of a dream, the incentive for improvement.

The space where the doe had stood survives emptied.

Too hard, too hard, too hard, too hard.

In the absence, in the loss, there is the feeling of so much unsaid.

When We Haven’t Said Goodbye

It’s the chance we did not have,

that metered stroke of a second before we knew

you were leaving, its luminous hand

unscathed by effort in the reigning darkness

like the sand in the hourglass our fist

could not keep from seeping into the lost

and forgotten. The moment was not ours.

The moment we would not have imagined,

borrowed briefly and returned to oblivion

in the aria of chimes played

by the mantel clock on the hour,

or in the wet glimmer of a kiss that we blew

into the open space we never

would have entered, telling us it’s over,

or in the grief of leaving a single word behind

had we said goodbye in time.

Joanne Monte

In the end, however, I mourn the loss of Judith. Driving in the car, listening to music, I see her, suddenly, years ago, smoking a cigarette, I feel a physical pain. I awake at night remembering her patience choosing cobbed corn despite the heat on a summer day, how I admired her graceful movements. I look at a photograph of a family celebration, see her smile. The tears that fall are because I will never hear that laugh again.

A friend like Judith does not enter a life too often. You are foolish if that friendship is not treasured. I have no sadness for days past that might have been. I struggle only to understand how we move ahead without her.