Fishing for James
By Juliann Westmoreland Gillette, 2006
The question of courage in life.
Why didn't he seek alternative treatments?
Ok. Some people laughed at Coretta Scott King-
How she was coaxed
Into something non-doctrinaire/
As if she didn't she have anything to lose.
James went the other route and lost all, anyway;
Maybe he was swallowed by
An early black-hole childhood. He and I (and certain others) tried
To swim against the old right-house, right-family,
Those never shutting, always calculating eyelids
Of our Victorian grandparents,
Where decorum sat not
Unlike the polar ice caps, today,
Melting at an accelerating rate.
(Or am I not allowed to write that?)
James - with full, red hair swinging
Slightly over his forehead, ate evil on a heavy Harley motorcycle, acting
First responder before there was
9/11. James, the counselor-
Ones lost, those without a compass to life,
Living under bridges, out of garbage cans. He
Reeled them in, fishing for men and women
Among the shadows.
Swimming upstream can wear on your innocence -
Suicide can seem sane,
Still taboo, though,
Even if Odysseus' mother crossed the same threshold
2,000 years ago.
James couldn't tolerate the kind of laughter
That fell out of tabloids and flowed syrupy like from ole southern street corners
Coretta afterwards -
Regarding her attempt to live at the hands of fools;
Down she went,
Into a silent grave
While his mind grew scorched,
An electric light bulb kind of mind,
On legitimate drugs,
A prescribed mind
That could be switched,
Like a control panel, erasing the painful sliding downstream
Where he and his spine were twisted
As dark as fauna underneath gather wood and leaves,
In a rushing stream,
Until the switch failed, and only the flip side
Was left, and
A single shot.
The funeral was lovely.
We sat on velvet cushions,
Like stone statues in spring
Inside the green walls of a church.
Some tried to steal a glance at the family
Grieving and carrying the weight of James in their eyes,
Trudging to the front pew.
I saw a pine tree through the altar window,
A tree like hundreds at the edge of the lake
At St. Crispin's, our old church camp -
And a senior year long ago when pearl clouds
Darkened into blue-gray
Where Jimmy and I ran to the dock
Hidden in pouring rain and thunder,
And stripping off our clothes, dove in. Underneath the surface, the water
Was warm and the air above cold when we bobbed
For fresh breaths.
Each time I floated to the surface, the rain pelted my face,
Like droplets of something too sweet to eat or drink,
Just soft rain flying from my hair and eyelashes each time I shook.
Back and forth across the lake we swam,
With lightening all around us, and white caps,
Shouting out our plans for fall, our first year at college.