for Jake Adam York
Dusk arrives early in these last couple days before the shortest day of the year, not yet five in the evening and the sky a darkening bruise and the streetlight is less coming on than spluttering out. It has been a week of grief, first Newtown and the long mourning to follow, yesterday the poet Jake Adam York of unexpected stroke at forty, Jake one of the first editors to champion my work, and surely one of the finest poets in the country. Warm inside the bright, clean, bustling café, the alt-rock seems garishly shallow and every piece of small talk and every cursory conversation seems put-on, veiling grief or truer auguries of imminent sorrow, and I suppose we should all heed the prophecies of apocalypse and drop our smiles and beat our chests with grief.
But it was Jake himself who said in his poem “Elegy,” that “in Greek, elegy means mourning song, a poem for what’s been lost, and the Greeks always cut something from their lines, a syllable or two, to create a silence or a place to hear it, maybe breaking meter…stepping quick then stopping, so the pain can arrive, and so the elegy, the mourning song, reaches for what’s missing or left behind.”
So, I search for a silence or a space to hear what needs to be said, search the bare beams of the ceiling and the faint rattle of the airducts overhead just audible beneath the rhythm guitar and I see what everyone else makes of mourning. On Facebook the poet David Daniels keeps searching for his last memory of being with Jake Adam York—’was it here, no, no, it was there, at the reading, over cocktails, just in passing on the street, in words of congratulation said in passing, no, no, wait, now I remember, yes, I do, it was there, it was there,’ as if by remembering when or where he might unearth why, how, what to do with his grief. One friend says that she will make mashed potatoes and pretend the world is ok, and another friend posts pictures of the ingredients for Dominican Chicken, and here someone who doesn’t know Jake Adam York at all has put up photos of the tiny house she has made herself, decorated miniature but bright and shiny for the holidays, and so it is after great pain: people go on, they persist. Yesterday I ran into an old lover I hadn’t seen in years who was in an obliviated place when I knew her; now, she says she’s found a grace in being in the world, and when we had to go, as she was dressed in a tinsel-laden Christmas-sweater costume and so couldn’t hug me goodbye she cupped my cheeks between her warm hands, a benediction meaning only, we will both be alright. Out the window the sky holds only the last, waning light, but the streetlight has steadied its beacon, and I suppose I trust the sky behind the sky, the mystery best signaled by lit candle or unlit candle, that is in absence imminent, that is in elegy present, that is the words to all the poems that Jake Adam York will no longer write or that he already wrote. Nearby a young girl with gold pigtails laughs at her own joke, a sound innocent with joy that makes me sure the morning of the coming apocalypse will dawn silver and clear and bright, and we will all still be here save those of us now gone.