Best Worst Year 8 (or Songs for Drella)

So the Stone Roses are headlining Coachella, and the damn kids don’t know who they are–does this surprise anyone? If it does, you can probably quote High Fidelity at will, too. But this isn’t about The Stone Roses–in a way it is, I guess, but it’s really about magic and loss, like the Lou Reed album. This week would’ve been my friend Jennifer Diskin’s 40th birthday. Forty. Four Zero. One of those milestones where I thought by the time I was close to this age there would be hoverboards and world peace; that the Eagles would’ve won the Superbowl, and The Stone Roses’ first album would be universally recognized as the masterpiece it is and would’ve changed the landscape of American music. Instead, I’m spending my morning writing and thinking about friends gone too soon.

The sun fills the kitchen with enough light you’d swear it was Spring outside, but the wind that winds its way through single pane windows tells you otherwise. The table is a scatter of life, spread ten years wide over a late night conversation between coffee and bloodshot eyes. Random books borrowed and unreturned, a pair of Moleskins, unopened mail from my last apartment, a stack of British vinyl. Jennifer was a kindred spirit when it came to music–a frayed rope bridge back to a time when Alternative was known as College Rock. She had a couple of years on me so she was there for that wave while I swam in its wake. Damn she had great taste in music. I remember writing this very young sounding poem “Who Are The Stone Roses?” and she used to request it at readings, like I was a lonesome DJ far left of the dial. Before vinyl’s comeback, before I was so clueless, before I didn’t know any ghosts, I’d read the poem. I was looking for it this morning, and I found it but I’m not sharing it here–some poems are best passed like traded eyes and nods between familiar places in unfamiliar times.

I’m flipping over my Stone Roses LP and the sun passes through the translucent yellow wax until it glows with a resonating halo of memory. Jennifer was the first poet I met when I started going to open mics. She was shy, almost painfully so. She looked like Mo Tucker from the Velvet Underground and when she read, her poetry thumped with similar intensity. It throbbed stark and vulnerable. There was a lot of hurt and loss–later confirmed with bar conversations about cancer and lover’s death, and Catholicism, and The Cure, and poetry. Sometimes the sadness was too much for me. Jennifer’s beautiful ache held a mirror up to my own insecurities, my inability to be so stripped bare. Sometimes I would chalk it up to being a single note, played over and over–like a minor piano chord hammered out as a Baby Grand is being tossed down a flight of stairs.

I’d like to think I didn’t make assumptions about her grief and pain, that I understood what she was going through–even before the cancer returned. But I didn’t. One thing you can count on is when you get a roomful of poets, you’ll get a roomful of spotlights. That’s not to say we weren’t there for one another but being there and just being are two different things and if Jennifer’s death has taught me anything it’s just that. At times, we are foolish enough to believe we just know just by being around. The trips to P’town or Austin for AWP, last call at The Bog, going out after a Paper Kite reading–all have their own good memories and better stories. It’s nothing born of malice or indifference, it’s just how life begins to gain traction and moves you–beit in physical distance or emotional miles. Nothing stays halcyon and golden–we only see such a light in the same way we see stars at night, from a distance lifetimes ago.

After Jennifer got sick for the last time, I didn’t see her much. We did a benefit for her and then there was this huge skip in time before I saw her again. There would be occasional updates with a variety of diagnosis and prognosis to go along with each dispatch. She was a living ghost and she vanished quietly a little more day in day out until one Friday night–seemingly out of nowhere– she came out to a reading. She was in a wheelchair and in a lot of pain, but it all dissolved away as soon as she began to read. In her voice was not the echo but the source, soaring above the room with each beat, her poems were alive in her chest and each of us bore her mark that night. It was a powerful reading, as each of the other three readings I would see. My favorite would probably be the alumni reading that June at Wilkes. Jennifer always wanted to go on for her M.F.A. so to have her read in front of our program was a point of pride for her and she delivered her work from her book with an inspiring urgency.

And then, come December, she was gone.

Last May, Wilkes conferred an honorary M.F.A. on Jennifer and her family requested that I accompanied them to the dais to receive the degree. I thought about how badly she wanted this degree, how many conversations had passed since Cafe Del Sol some eleven years earlier. I thought about the scholarship which bears her name…I think about The Stone Roses today and how close to 40 she was and wasn’t. I watch a stylus tracing the orbit of this vinyl poem I am leaning hard against as I write this exercise in magic and loss. I move the stylus to the edge of the record and fill the room with Jennifer’s poems.

_______________
Jim Warner is the author of two poetry collections Too Bad It’s Poetry and Social Studies (Paper Kite Press). His poetry has appeared in The North American Review, PANK Magazine, Word Riot, and other journals. Jim received his MFA at Wilkes University. Follow Jim on Twitter: @whoismisterjim.

Jennifer Diskin’s chapbook, Wear White and Grieve is available through Naissance Chapbooks.

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