Mudlark Flash No. 11 (2001)

Risa Denenberg

“I am a nurse, a lesbian, and a grandmother, but most deeply, a writer. Currently I live and work as a free-lance medical writer in New York City. Most of my published works are non-fiction. Most of my poems are non-fiction as well, some of which have been published here and there.”   — Risa Denenberg

The Conversion of Saint Jon

For Jon Marshall Greenberg, 1956-1993
          God is gracious.

Journal entry, undated, 1992
For those who would ask for news of me: Greetings in love.
I know the last temptation is at hand.


Release | The Millennium | Sermon on the Mount
The Book of Ruth | From Essence, Eggs, and Egos
All Saints of God | The Stones of San Sebastian
The New Testament | Angels and Pigeons | Holy War
Betrayal | Ascension | Last Words | Last Rites
Book of the Dead | Found Objects | After Life
Readings from the Scriptures | Dear Jon

O my God! Source of all mercy! I acknowledge your sovereign power. While recalling the wasted years that are past, I believe that you, Lord, can in an instant turn this loss to gain. Miserable as I am, yet I firmly believe that you can do all things. Please restore to me the time lost, giving me your grace, both now and in the future, that I may appear before you in wedding garments. Amen.
Saint Teresa of Avila

Take care that you always choose not the easiest but the hardest,
not the most agreeable but the most disagreeable,
not what consoles but what deprives you of consolation,
not attachment to things but detachment from them.

If you want to possess all, you must desire nothing.
If you want to become all, you must desire to be nothing.
If you want to know all, you must desire to know nothing.

Saint John of the Cross, from The Ascent to Mount Carmel

Journal entry, undated, 1993
in the year of his death
I have been learning, since I first opened that door,
to handle spiritual reality for increasingly longer periods of time.
It’s wild in there. I can now handle it for almost three seconds.


The apartment was changing, rearranging, preparing for something.
But who knew? Yet how could we not have known?
Beads, there were tons of beads, a rosary garden.
Oh, and angels. He could hear their blessings in the morning
when the pigeons stirred, purling and flapping in the air shaft.
Within, Shiva danced amid a tangle of rituals
for the unnamed Saint’s day.

Years before we reckoned with his death,
when he was still Jewish,
I moved into an unclaimed studio across the hall—
a walk-up in disrepair on the 5th floor.
A newcomer to the city, I had no idea what a good rent deal I was getting
only that this would make it easier when the time comes.

We cooked together.
He made paté, spinach sautéed in garlic and olive oil, a miraculous leg of lamb.
I made brisket and latkes for Chanukah
but Rosh Hashanah was our favorite holiday
when we wrote our sins on small slips of paper and burned them—
releasing things we no longer need.
We ate hot beet borscht with sour cream and cool cucumbers
and roast duck and apple strudel.
Then, one Passover, he made gefilte fish
and served it with loaves of challah.
Something was brewing like strong tea.

His spiritual life became a tzimmis—a stew of many things.
The altar of his pilgrimage emerged gradually.
Lumps of lavender incense burning in a stone pot.
Candles—white fat columns
red 7-day burners in tall glass jars bearing martyrs’ faces.
Ornate tiny picture frames housing demons and holy men.
It was here, after, in the deserted apartment
I found his bible, the book of Job, his bar mitzvah haftorah.

When he died, he was paying $424/month.
I inherited rent control, but when they re-leased his apartment
they charged an amicable Korean couple $900.
It’s been re-inhabited three times in 7 years.
The rent is so high now, the current pair keep me awake at night.
Their dispirited arguments over money pass easily
through the breach in our shared wall.

Sometimes I think that AIDS was a plot of New York City landlords.

Journal entry, March 3, 1993
So angry, so angry about being alone. So angry about not being taken care of, about being abandoned. And so, I’m pushing everyone away.

The Millennium

He was 37 years old, less than half a life. But this is just my perspective. When he was still Jewish, he informed us that lives cannot be saved. He wanted us to know that he would die, and that he knew that he would die. And we would each die, too. Someday. Everybody dies.

He was a mindful Jew, quarrelling with facts, doubting allegiance, carping incessantly over details. This was my pathway into his soul. Two Jews, three opinions. We basked in the held breaths of rapt audiences when we fought by the stunning technique we developed of changing positions, mid-argument. We were like siblings bickering, or angels pinhead-dancing. Or, some said, like an old married couple.

As he went about dying, he let us know that we were mere spectators. This is not about you, he fumed. He locked horns with everyone. Perhaps his dense agitation should have warned us that something medical was amiss. Perhaps he was simply the instrument of our discord as we imbibed the lesson that we could not save lives.

He said, I don’t want a cure.
He said, I hear angels singing.
He said, When I die, I want you build a fire in the street.
He said, When I die, I want you to burn my body in the fire.
He said, When I die, I want you to eat my flesh.
Then I thought, this is his fear speaking.
Now, I think angels were whispering in his ear.

When death was on the outskirts, he reached long to embrace her. Yet, as she drew him in, he spurned her overtures like a frightened bridegroom. Despite a sober effort, he could not stop wanting more life. There were the moments, right up to the end, when he said, Maybe I will live to see the millennium.

Journal entry, June 23, 1992
Please, help my people—these powerful angry and loving faggots and dykes. Please god, I beg of you. Have mercy on my people who I love so dearly. Let me build a bridge, God, between my people and yourself.

Sermon on the Mount

Moses spoke to his people with a veil covering his face.
But Paul revealed to his people that the veil could be lifted.
To this very day, that same veil is still there
when the old covenant is read.

When it had become clear that our people needed a new covenant,
Jon discerned this and spoke truthfully.
Even today, whenever Moses is read, the veil is over their minds.
It will not be removed until they turn to the Lord.

When it had become clear that our people needed to remove the veil,
Jon discerned this and challenged us.
Now this Lord is the spirit, and where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

When it had become clear that our people needed to recognize God’s image
in ourselves, Jon discerned this and prayed for us.
And we, with our unveiled faces reflecting, like mirrors, the brightness
of the Lord, all grow brighter and brighter as we are turned
into the image that we reflect.

And when it had become clear that our people could not save lives,
Jon discerned this and prophesied.
This is the work of the Lord who is spirit.

Exodus 34:34; Corinthians 2, 3:12

Journal entry, Shavuot 1992
The message of Ruth is accepting the foreign interloper with perfect love and charity. The foreigner becoming one with the host. Ruth lay at the feet of Boaz, and from the marriage of Ruth and Boaz began the line of Obed, Jesse, David and Jesus.

The Book of Ruth

A traditional reading for Shavuot is the book of Ruth.
Ruth, who would not leave Naomi: Where you go, I go.
(A beacon to lesbians everywhere, the promise of perfect love.)

Jon, like Ruth, was an emigrant, relying on strangers.
When Boaz recognized her, Ruth rejoiced:
How have I so earned your favor that you take notice of me, an outsider?

Jon, like Paul, became host to vagabonds:
In a strange land, love each other like brothers,
welcome strangers, who may be angels.

Jon fled home as Moses fled Egypt.
Moses married Zippora, a stranger,
and named their child Gershom: stranger in a strange land.
Jon married himself, a stranger,
and named the microbes, adopted by his body, guests.

Jon, like Naomi, lost his family, had only in-laws for comfort.
With immense faith, he joined the lost tribe
looked to us for comfort and protection.

Jon, like Boaz, suffered abiding women to glean in his field.
Leaving us stranded at films and festivals to cruise boys
returning to us at dawn or for dinner.
Men were aliens—touched and rejected.
Women were foreign interlopers—loved dearly
but not admitted into inner chambers.

Ruth was protected by Boaz
but loved Naomi.
Unclad, Jon diligently sought Naomi
but never found her.

Shavuot is the Jewish festival celebrating the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai.
Ruth 2:10; Hebrews 13:1-3; Exodus 2:21

Journal entry, undated, 1992
Here it is. The solution to AIDS is not more but less. Aggressive acceptance. Accepting the change that is happening in my body, embracing the other as a lover. The virus is breaking down my defenses so I can learn how to live without defenses.

From Of Essence, Eggs and Egos

Jon M. Greenberg, writings 1992

The ego is like a barrier which surrounds the self. It is a necessary barrier during the process of strengthening and developing the self. Once the self is fully developed, the ego can be dropped because the self no longer needs the ego to protect it from damage. It is like an egg in its shell. Once the inner chick is fully developed, the barrier drops away.

But until the chick is fully developed, it sounds kind of silly to judge the shell as being bad. No. It is useful for as long as it is needed, and then, when it is no longer needed, it is dangerous if it doesn’t drop away. If a fully developed chick could not shed its shell, it would die. So will the self if it can’t let go of the ego when it no longer needs it. The shell (ego) which exists but is without the self (chick) is empty and functionless. Even this is not bad, however. It may be a lesson for someone else, or it may fulfill some other function. Easter eggs, for example, are pretty, as are many people who have no sense of self but still intact egos. Ultimately these egos are very fragile and crack easily, but don’t reveal anything inside. (There is sadness here.)

Journal entry, September 9, 1984
“And what have you done with your life?” they will ask at the Pearly Gates. “Masturbated.” I have wasted my life away on nothing mentally, spiritually, emotionally. And waited. Waited for something wonderful to happen.

All Saints of God

Jon led his people like Moses
knowing that, for his sins, Moses died
without crossing the Jordan or entering Canaan.

And like Moses, he became a judge of his people
aware that, when God appointed judges
the people of Israel demanded kings.

As a child, he identified with martyrs.
He sensed that angels were near
to help him endure the suffering his life would be.
Why greet death, if not to enter the kingdom?

But what does a Jewish boy know of saints?
He mentioned these in his journals:
     (1984) St Apollania [committed suicide]
     (1992) St Barbara [beheaded by her father]
     (1992) St Sebastian [pierced with arrows]
     (1993) St John of the Cross [imprisoned by his brothers]

Did he plead with Saint Michael
     —guardian angel of Israel—
to save his people?

When he was wasting with diarrhea
did he moan to Saint Elmo
     —patron of intestinal illness—
to cure his affliction?

Of 7 saints memorialized on his day of death
did he long for Veronica
     —who wiped the face of Jesus—
to absolve his body?

Did he debate with the newly-appointed patrons of AIDS?
Surely he would have objected to such hubris.
These saints—could they argue like Jews?
     Aloysius [bedridden with kidney problems]
     Peregrine [one foot, a lump of rotting flesh]
Perhaps he found fellowship in one—
     sweet Therese of Lisieux, radiant in her suffering.

Did he gossip with Mary Magdalene,
offering his own lush sins, extravagant gestures
in exchange for her parables?

Did he strike bargains with our own Jewish saints?
Abraham? Moses? David? Jesus?
Saint Benedicta, nee Edith Stein?
Did our sister-convert whisper this tantalizing prayer in his ear?

     Who are you, sweet light, that fills me
     And illumines the darkness of my heart?
     Are you not the sweet manna,
     The food of angels and the blessed

Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross
from A Pentecost Novena, Collected Works of Edith Stein, Vol. 4, © ICS Publications

Journal entry, undated, 1992
I am Sebastian. Christ, the metaphors hold. Kidney stones—piedra—in San Sebastian, the stones being healed by Saint Barbara, rejection by the masses.

The Stones of San Sebastian

A smart Jew does not disown Jesus, he looks for familial resemblance.
Jon thought it a sign in 1992, when, on route to Barcelona,
he passed kidney stones in San Sebastian
named for the saint, martyred in the 14th century.
Sebastian—tied naked to a tree and shot full of arrows.
This failed to kill the faithful.
Neither Sebastian nor Jon died from stones or arrows.

Jon died from complications of AIDS, a standard obituary phrase.
Yet the New York Times rejected the phrase, lover of men.
Sebastian flung back those arrows at his tormentors
only to be bludgeoned by the authorities shortly thereafter.
A remarkable healer, yet he could not save his own life.

Journal entry, Madrid, April 3, 1992
We will be martyrs. We are the living Christ.
We are the prophets, we are saving the world.

8- The New Testament

The earliest reference to Christ found among his papers was this:

The Gospels According to Dostoyevsky

by Jon M. Greenberg

6 May 1980
Professor Jordan


This paper will examine the relationship between the New Testament and Crime and Punishment and show how Dostoyevsky continuously incorporated the New Testament into his novel by subtly weaving actions, descriptive elements and dialogue from this source into the fabric of his narrative. The overall structure of the novel corresponds to the major divisions of the New Testament with the Gospels providing many of the specific elements found in the larger portion of the novel; and Acts, the Epistles and Revelations providing elements for the Epilogue.

Journal entry, January 23, 1993
A dream. In my apartment, feeling insecure, and then I go to my front door and find that all the locks have been removed and there are only holes where the dead bolt and doorknob used to be. Even the chain lock is gone. I am completely open, unguarded, and vulnerable.

Angels and Pigeons

One morning he says, I haven’t seen angels all week.
Before, he could hear their blessings every morning
when the pigeons stirred, purling and flapping in the air shaft.
There were two crypts, and he had a foot in each.

Crypt #1
Cryptosporidium: contagious, often attributed to tainted water.
No matter that he drank only Poland Springs
the waterborne microbe gripped his bowels.
In truth, he knew well, this bug was also transmitted by rimming—
a sexual act he was ardently fond of.
As if in manifest response to stolen pleasure
he suffered profuse diarrhea for years.
A phrase that deserves to be repeated, to sink fully into consciousness:
He suffered profuse diarrhea for years.
For most, a brief illness, but not for those bereft of immunity.
He was painfully thin. Thankfully, the remedy was benign.
Medicine did not deter this protozoa. The only salve was
soothing the voracious appetite left in the wake of malnutrition.
Eating became therapy, another religious act.

Crypt #2:
I’m losing this battle to pigeons, he said.
Cryptococcus: a fungus
with a predilection for the brain.
A fungus growing on offal
tossed onto the street
and swallowed by pigeons.

A fungus
that descended with droppings
that mixed with the dirt
that settled in the airshaft
that rose as fairy-dust
(when wings fluttered)
that Jon breathed in
that entered his lungs
that surged through his bloodstream
and settled in his brain.

When the headaches came,
the sign was two fingers tapping
alongside the temple.
The symptoms were projectile vomiting
and later, seizures.
The symbol was hearing angels.
This was a less benign infection
and the remedy was dreadful.
There were spinal taps every week.
A fact that bears repeating, with mindfulness.
There were spinal taps every week.

Then, suddenly, he says, I haven’t heard angels all week.
This happened in June.

Journal entry, January 8, 1979
Personal experience has taught me that love is a carnivorous worm that eats slowly through my mortal heart and destroys all that is in its path. Experience has taught me that love is possessive and destructive, potentially more devastating than the most piercing hate.

Holy War

Those candles—white fat columns
red 7-day burners in tall glass jars with pictures of martyrs.
Ornate tiny picture frames housing demons, gods, and holy men.
A postcard of Shiva, wearing tiger skin and serpent necklace
dancing his celestial dance atop a dwarf-demon.

Shiva—god of death and demons, release and rebirth.
This god, with four arms, moon hair, a third eye
drank a draught of poison from the great sea
to save the world from harm
but could not swallow
all the body fluids you were drowning in.

It was demons you were searching for, wasn't it?
Red-faced, gothic demons that stalked your dreams, possessed your body.
The demons of desire and disappointment, doubt and betrayal, isolation and terror,
pain and death.

The demon of family.
The demon of masturbation.
The demon of homosexuality.
The demon of cocaine.
The demon of AIDS.
The demon of kidney stones.
The demon of diarrhea.
The demon of headaches.
The demon of spinal taps.

Let Shiva come now and dance upon these demons.

Journal entry, undated, 1992
The crucifixion. The betrayal before the cock crows.


Here was the hardest moment for me:
when it became unsafe to continue to treat him any longer in his own home. His own bed. His own bathroom. His kitchen. His altar. His organic food. Gallons of Poland Springs water. His books. His favorite arias playing. Tons of beads. Incense and candles. Living among his own angels.

Do you remember the summer of 1993?
It was the hottest summer ever
and for $424/month, you don't get air conditioning.
But this was his home, his familiar.

Two sickening infusions a day, projectile vomiting from intracranial pressure, horrific headaches, bouts of mania—these we could handle. A schedule of shifts, someone always with him—this we could do. But he was having seizures, and no one noticed. They were subtle at first, a posture—decorticate—arms flexed, fists clenched, wrists touching. His friends said, He must have been sleeping, and then he pissed in the bed. This—we couldn't handle.

Paul, the good doctor, bless his soul, loved Jon.
But that night—it was July 2ndwhen he came to the apartment
to conference, to make a plan, to take the next step—
he looked straight-faced into Jon's eyes, and said (I will never forget this):

     Jon, you’re looking better.
     Yes, I think so. Yes.

I interjected: We can’t continue this at home.
I stated the facts: Paul, he’s having seizures now.
I said plainly (I'll never forget this):

     If you want to stop treatment
     If you want to die at home
     We can stay here
     We go to the hospital.

Jon said:

     I don’t want to stop the treatment.
     I don’t want to go into the hospital.

He looked at Paul. He looked at me.

     Traitors, he whispered, vehemently.

Journal entry, undated, 1992
The prophecy is being fulfilled: It is coming to pass.
I need to reveal myself—rabbi, teacher, Judas?
Should I go to Barcelona, or start my passion here?


When does a man become a saint?
Is it on an afternoon when
wearied and disrobed—twitching
pains from groin to toes—
he solemnly ascends the stairs
from the 5th floor to the 7th
and then, up another narrow staircase
where a door opens to the asphalt threshold?

It is April, the resurrection of spring.
three months to go
From the rooftop, the city is benevolent.
His vision, a backdrop of building crests against a blue tableau.
Heaven sighs and hearkens.
He spreads a towel
drapes it with his hallowed body.
He is so thin, no doubt cold, yet
his eyes dilate towards paradise
and he comes in a burst.


As it happens, we miss the significance.
Like any martyr, he is alone.
His own people don’t understand.
He is feverish and confused.
The sun is cloistered and we are embarrassed
when he informs us, I have fucked God.

For this is all the time he has
the only holy act he can perform
the sole blessing he will receive.
As it is with saints, he is canonized only after death.

In this blissful night
Secretly, no man seeing me,
I seeing nothing,
With no other light or guide
But that which burned in my heart.
And it led me
Surer than the light of the noonday.

Saint John of the Cross, from The Canticles

Last journal entry, April 23, 1993
I need help. I am too isolated. Please help:
I accept the end of my isolation. God willing, in your time.

Last Words

Before you stopped speaking, you were light enough
for me to carry from bed to bathroom.
The last words you spoke to me were:
Shut up Risa.
Some said we were like an old married couple.
But we weren’t old and the bitterness
of your death shrouded everything.

For weeks, I sensed that I was the only one
who knew that you were dying.
My acceptance and your denial replaced
your acceptance and my denial.
Our old ruse—changing positions, mid argument.
It felt so unfair when you appeared to absolve
everyone from your anger but me.
I swallowed all of your fury.

Lord, I miss you so.
Why couldn’t you hold me and rage at God?

Journal entry, July 12, 1992
Oh heavenly father, help my earthly father to learn how to trust and love again. Please God, help my father. He wants your love, your compassion so badly, do not lock him out of the universal heart forever. I love him.

Last Rites

Unconscious, he had a large following.
Three days he lay in the state called coma, as mourners passed by.
He gestured towards heaven and grabbed at his catheter
while worshipers came into and out of the hospital room
restlessly eating Thai food and chattering carelessly.
The woman who was soon to become my ex-lover
was solemnly watching our life unfold around his hospital bed.
The woman who was soon to become her new lover
flitted by like a screen memory.
Jon’s brother, Neil, came with his ex-boyfriend Frank, who died shortly.
Change was in the atmosphere.
Not one of us could manage to hold on to another.

The plane set down at 11:00 PM. He died at 11:35.
His parents couldn’t have arrived at a better time or at a worse time.
We had already finished off the first bottle of scotch
as he lay in the state of the just-dead.

On the day after you left
we sat in your vacated apartment—
your father, your mother, and I.
Among the thoughtless things they said
(utterances which seemed to arise directly from your sealed mouth)
your mother cursed me, bidding the evil eye to enter your home.
You stole him from me, she accused,
while your father appraised the stereo speakers.

Is this how they want to sit shiva, I wonder?
I hang a towel over the mirror.
I tear my tee shirt.
I sit on the floor.
Sitting, I think of the word, satsung. What is it, anyway?
I muse over the word shiva, the god Shiva, my God.
The God of the Old Testament. Elijah. Christ Jesus. Krishna. Buddha.
I try to line these men up on a time line. I add Mohammed.
I think of goddesses—Shakti and Sophia.
I recall a bit of obscure knowledge of Buddhist sky burial
ruminate over Jon’s requests to eat his body.
Can we even begin to share God?
This is what I want to know, while I am sitting with them.
Your father removed pictures from the walls
and noticed your things, in a way he had never
noticed you.

I think, They can’t wait to devour you.
To make you disappear inside of their bellies.
She would eat your body, he would drink your blood.

It is not difficult to imagine you rising, rising, rising.

Shiva means seven and refers to the Jewish 7-day period of mourning. Covering mirrors,
tearing one’s clothes and sitting on the floor are customs during this time.

Journal entry, July 30, 1992
Thank you lord for bringing me to this house of spirit and devotion to you.

Book of the Dead

You didn’t tell us what you wanted, dammit.
Or you did, and we didn’t believe you.
Did you really expect that we would build a bonfire in Thompkins Square Park and burn your body? Did you really believe that we could eat your freshly charred flesh? Did you think we knew anything about these customs? And yet...

I wish we hadn’t gotten drunk as you were hovering above your shell.
I wish we had read from the Bardo Thödol, and not moved your body for 3 days.
I wish we had covered your face with a white cloth.
I wish we had turned you onto your right side in the Lying Posture of a Lion.
I wish we had kept your family from weeping in your presence.
I wish we had heard and understood your instructions.
I wish you had been conscious of your dying.
I wish you had looked peaceful.
I wish your eyes had opened as you took in your last breath.
I wish you had taught us more, before you died.

The Buddha himself wrote nothing of his teachings.

Bardo Thödol is the Tibetan name for the Tibetan Book of the Dead,
where these customs are described.

Journal entry, undated, 1992
I dreamt that my spirit was making love to my body. The perfect son always remains subordinate to the father.

Found Objects

After his parents plundered Jon's apartment
After friends and ex-lovers fondled his possessions
After his brothers and sister drained what solace they could of objects

I was left with these odd things:

  • His bible, the book of Job, his bar mitzvah haftorah
  • A large picture book: Demons, Gods, and Holy Men
  • A framed image of Shiva dancing
  • 6 journals: 1978-1980, 1980-1987,1987-1988, 1988-1991, 1992, 1992-1993.
  • Scores of hardbacks—Woolf, Salinger, Genet, Pynchon, Lessing, Murdoch, Maughn, Chekov, Camus, Darwin, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, others
  • 2 Passports
  • 2 Yearbooks
  • A slush pile of short stories
  • His record collection—remember records?—a mix of show tunes, soul, and disco
  • Identification cards: Henry Sibley Senior High School 1971-72; Social Security Card; University of Minnesota; New York State Department of Social Services
  • Food Stamps totaling $8.50
  • $21 in silver certificate U.S. dollars
  • 1 transcript from Columbia University
  • a shoebox filled with postcards, including 4 of Saint Sebastian
  • an odd assortment of seemingly unrelated news clippings, such as this one, sans date, from the New York Times—

          2 Teen-age Children Are Held as Plotters of Father’s Murder

Journal entry, undated, 1992
You can sweep the floor, and find God, even in the dust.

After Life

At first you see your dead friend all the time
walking down the street, turning the corner, slipping from your reach.
The lights blink during a brownout in summer, and you think it's him.
You saved his spinal fluid in a test tube placed inside a red carafe.
Pray to this clear, infectious fluid that he demanded to take home
from the doctor’s office because it was his.
Then one day, while cleaning, it drops onto the floor and the vessel breaks.
The clear fluid spills forth.
You anoint your head with his spinal fluid.
Lay a drop smack in the center of your forehead.

Years pass because they have no choice.
You wonder, what does this word pass mean?
The passage of birth.
The passing of a loved one.
Passing a test.
Making a pass.
I think I’ll pass on that.
He surpassed all of our expectations.
Still you wonder, where exactly is he?
You see him everywhere.


Journal entry, January 20, 1984
I have become, for the time being, nothing more than an English teacher who turns a trick weekly to make enough money to live on. In order to have time to write and devote myself to the business of the mind I am forced to do business with my body.

Readings From The Scriptures

Among the things I held on to were his journals. They began when he was 20, living in NYC, and continued, with sporadic entries, until 3 months before his death at age 37. I saved them, what else could I do? They were safe with me, would not leak their harsh ink, lash out hurtfully at others, or announce his defeats at the hands of family, authorities, comrades and lovers. They had lain untouched for 7 years, when a summons, like a foghorn, called me to give witness to his history, his dreams, his spiritual travels. The task of reading was formidable and tedious, as I turned traitor to the cause of containing his secrets. They were too familiar, too symbolic, too inevitable to remain buried and darkened. His words burst forth and opened my mouth, like a horde of alters, his handwriting shifting with his moods. It was a wild journey, the long-playing version of the condensed years of his illness.

Many things I simply did not know about his life:
  • How he tricked for lira during the years he lived in Italy.
  • His harsh denunciations of masturbation, calling it a sin.
  • The sheer amount of coke and Rémy-Martin he consumed.
  • A 4-year live-in love-relationship with a black man.
  • Bouts of hepatitis and gonorrhea.
  • A rather brutal rape.
  • A brief affair with a woman, when he was 25.

(But this is not the point I wish to make. I don’t know what point I wish to make.
But not that his life was sordid and surprising. Yet it was.)

Perhaps it is this: From these writings, I feel obliged, yet reluctant, to expose his family afflictions, the torment that his writing revealed, his ultimate failure to heal these wounds. This pool of suffering, in which so many of us bathe regularly, was the most profound reality his journals described. Humiliated and abased by his father; enduring intrusive, self-involved demands of his mother; wariness and distance among 4 siblings who could not save each other—this was the content. Yet the delicate love for each one was as palpable as the grief, although better concealed.

(Do familial revelations provide something useful, worth revealing?
I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.)

Perhaps we read too many memoirs in the 90s
to heed the lessons they teach us.
Must we pass this torch on to the next generation?

And after these things
I saw four angels standing
on the four corners of the earth,
holding the four winds of the earth,
that the wind should not blow on the earth,
nor on the sea, nor on any tree.

Revelations 7:1

Dear Jon,

These are things you should know.
In the Jewish tradition, I do not forget you.
Each year, I burn a candle of remembrance, every morning I say
Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.
In the Hindu tradition, I await your return to our planet
to honor the form of your reincarnation—
tiger cub, baby girl, Shiva’s son, perhaps a Maple sapling.
In the Buddhist tradition, I pray for good karma in your rebirth
and try to do no harm in my journey on earth.

In the Catholic tradition, I believe you are in heaven,
held in God's palm, or walking arm-in-arm with your brother Jesus.
I hear angels now and now I think I understand
what we could not understand when you took flight.

Every day, I miss you forever.

Love, Risa

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