At first, I was angry with the sun this morning, as I woke up still trying to absorb the loss of my friend, the amazing poet Jake Adam York. I wanted that heavy sky from Saturday, the one that fit my heartbreak over the massacre in Connecticut. Now, several hours later, I am glad for the sun as it prevents me from hiding out and burrowing down.
|Jake signing my copy of Persons Unknown|
As the news of Jake's stroke and then the horrible, horrible news of his death hit me, I found myself wanting to do anything rather than confront this loss. I tried to clean up the kitchen and left the room with the task half finished. I tried to watch television, but the choices were either shoot-em-up movies full of bravado or too-sweet Christmas stories. The news, the news was full of Sandy Hook. I finally settled on cutting out images for my collages, which always calms me down. Still, every 20 - 30 minutes, a light would cut through my brain and I would realize again that Jake was gone.
Let me confess, I do not pretend to be the closest of friends or loved one of Jake's, and I can't imagine the pain and the sorrow they are experiencing right now. However, Jake had a special kind of magic to me. He made me feel instantly connected to him, the first time I met him, which was at AWP in 2008, I think. Someone introduced me to him at the Copper Nickel table, and Jake hugged me in greeting. Let me tell you, that man knew how to give a proper friendship hug. Then, Jake stunned me even more by mentioning Blood Almanac and saying how much he enjoyed reading it. What? I was stunned and humbled (and a bit proud, too).
Every year when I got to see Jake in person at AWP, he seemed to glow with an inner energy. He seemed always in the grip of his love of poets and poetry (even when towards the end each year that mammoth conference was wearing us all thin). The amazing thing was that Jake always had time to stop and chat, however briefly, and he never made me feel like I didn't belong in his circle. He took all of my social anxiety of being around such amazing poets and he put those anxieties at ease. I simply cannot fathom not seeing him in Boston. It may not become real for me until then.
I've been re-reading Jake's poems, and I'm amazed all over again at his insistence that we look tragedy squarely in the face and that we learn and grow from absorbing that tragedy. Here was a white man from the South taking on the personal stories of the long list of Civil Rights Martyrs and speaking openly, honestly about racism in a time when so many want to hide from the topic, want to burrow down and say we've moved on. And still, while tackling this incredibly difficult subject matter, Jake made beautiful poems, poems I'm clinging to today.
Finally, Jake's death is a tragedy, and coming so hard on the heels of the tragedy in Sandy Hook, all those questions of mortality and religion are swirling around me again. I practice no organized religion, but I believe there is a God out there, a higher power who created all the beauty on this earth, and I believe in all paths to God. I do not know if there is a life that follows this one; I hope there is, and I hope it is the paradise contained in so many of the world's spiritual teachings. I hope it is a place where I get to see my friend again, to hug him, and to hear the poems he didn't get a chance to write in this world.