Poetry: For Richard by Chris Giovacchini
by Chris Giovacchini
In happier days . . .
It was a cool Friday morning in early December.
The damp valley fog was lifting.
I heard screams, terror called my name.
I ran across the street. Behind the garage door
I heard the soft rolling purr of a predator digesting a meal.
Breaking the dining room window with my garden axe,
My memory is blurred,
The glass shattered,
An antique lamp fell from where it stood.
The lamp crashed, the huge 3-way bulb exploded, shorted, and emitted
A little puff of smoke.
Momentarily perplexed, I remembered my mission.
Made of lead, yet mercurial, I moved step by step, coughing amidst gray acrid fumes.
One foot following the other in a lucid dream, through the kitchen,
Until my hand reached for the knob of the door that led to the garage.
I turned it and pushed.
The large predator was still there, purring.
Dirty mustard yellow with a green and silver tail
Stuck in its cushioned ear.
Disregarding the meticulous masturbation,
Seeing my friend inside,
I broke the seal of the coffin.
“Richard!” I called
I grabbed his rigid wrist and felt, nothing.
He was just sitting there with his tweed hat and coat on,
Clutching a half empty whiskey neat,
For the road!
“Open the Garage!” a voice cried.
I backed out and fumbled at the garage door.
Only to find it secured by ropes and ties.
“Turn off the car!” an anxious voice called again.
I was in a noxious fog, my thoughts were muddled.
Working at the door, it opened with a rush of light and fresh air
And Richard’s frantic wife, diluting the gray carbon monoxide haze.
“It seems like he’s been there a while,” I reported.
“Oh God no!, Not this!, Damn him!, Call 911”
Obedient, I ran inside and picked up the phone.
There was no dial tone.
He had pulled the phone chords.
All of Richard’s life had led to that moment,
A little piece of mine will be forever preserved there,
In rigor mortis with Richard.
I believe we all have the ultimate choice to quit, to self-destruct
To fold what we imagine is a losing hand.
There is something about looking into the rolled back eyes of Richard
That I can’t erase from my mind.
It was difficult to honor his choice, that he believed it best,
A helpless feeling of finality, I was angry
That he believed this world was better without him.
Sometimes we laughed and drank into the late night.
He would play Ornette Coleman records,
“Listen to this” He’d say smoking and smiling.
I felt chosen to share in his last moment of macabre intimacy,
That finally revealed all that he stoically restrained,
What he really thought of himself.
Richard remained restless for a few days.
He appeared dressed in white at my garden gate
Ringing the bell one evening.
He turned on all the lights in his uninhabited house one night,
I saw him briefly by the window.
He was also heard by some, joy riding in a Lanchia, his favorite sports car.
Reminiscent of a happier time, Foreign Service days,
Midnight drives in the moonlight of Palestine,
This was a little unnerving.
The newspaper said he was clinically depressed.
Sometimes at night he yelled violently, frightening the neighbors.
He had begun to chain smoke Dunhills.
He drank heavily and had become thin.
Intelligent, yet repressed, aimless,
Passionate about perfection, in desperate need of a dream,
His wit and humor were a salvation of sorts,
Though impotent against so gloomy a shadow.
The Harvard Law Alumnus, convinced by the
Prosecutors argument, sentenced himself.
Introspect, anger, self-doubt, loathing,
And criticism can be lethal.
One day they conspire to get you alone,
Lock all the doors,
Pull the phones from the wall,
Tape a garden hose to the exhaust pipe of an old Mercedes,
Sit you down inside and take your breath away.
I guess Richard was really mad at himself,
He wanted everything perfect.
His brokenness and human failings
Met no self-compassion in his private darkness.
His black machismo summoned the executioner.
The imperfect perfectionist had
To edit himself out.
I wonder what Richard saw or felt?
What sad, isolated conclusion he came to?
But who am I to say?, to impose my self-spun morality on anyone?
Isn’t it vital to be passionate about something?,
To have a love of something?, a short term goal?, a positive addiction?,
To scramble the incessant voice of the predator?
Conjecture was rampant among the old Italians.
They tried to make sense of something that made no sense.
There was talk of a bizarre love triangle, coming-out notes,
A coup de grâce of cuckoldry for an accidental voyeur.
The dice roll, some are beckoned,
Some shunned, others jilted or smitten,
Rage and frustration taken out on the worthless self.
I felt like a clumsy plowman when I compared myself to Richard.
He schooled me on the computer.
An exacting writer himself,
I was too intimidated to ask him to review my work.
Afraid perhaps that he would find out that I wasn’t perfect like him.
Then he might be angry, judgmental and critical,
As hard on me as he was on himself, but that was all in my head.
My chap book came together finally, but he was gone.
I wish he could have read the vulnerable and fragile poems,
Of the broken and paltry moods I fall into sometimes,
The bleak outlook that ensues.
Maybe he wouldn’t have felt so isolated in his perceived inadequacy.
Maybe then we could still stay up late, play the Ornette Coleman,
Laugh, and drink red wine.
What leads a man to that state of extreme despair?
I have been close, so I thought, to that point.
Though after staring at death, in the face of a friend,
In retrospect, really far away.
The vital force in me perhaps more trenchant and randy, so far at least.
I have wrestled with my shadow over and over in a struggle to understand it,
In an endeavor to develop self-compassion.
To receive with empathy from my flawed self, its song, its message,
To embrace it rather than shame and banish it in self-flagellation,
We cannot divorce what we despise in ourselves,
Discard the unwanted pieces,
It is an approach that doesn’t work with the soul.
We try but we fall on our faces.
How often do people think we are wonderful and actually envy us?
While we secretly harbor thoughts of self-doubt and suicide?
We can all be such phonies and impostors, we fool ourselves.
The lamp I knocked over in my futile rescue attempt
Was one of those from the thirties or forties.
Standup, with gold filigree on the pedestal, ribbed along the stem,
Crowned by thick white opaque glass in the form of a lily or angels trumpet.
Somebody unplugged it, and it was left for days where it fell.
Shards of glass formed a halo on the floor around it.
White confetti on the floor of a ballroom from an other era
After the lights had gone out, the music ended, and everyone had gone home.
The broken pieces waiting for a lone janitor to come echoing in.
To clean up the the disarray and make everything perfect again,
Perfect and empty, dim lit and hollow, with a residual
Sense of something that happened there.
All the music, laughter and dancing can be heard in the uninhabited silence.
The black panther is still poised on the garage rafter
Ready to pounce on his next victim.
The tan Stetson sits on the shelf waiting for the next cowboy.
Richard appears in my dreams, mute,
On the other side of a barbed wire fence,
Driving an old pickup,
“Richard” I call, but he never answers.
Ripples on a pond radiate out in concentric circles
Across space and time,
Intertwining fate with destiny.
Perhaps in taking his life Richard made his biggest statement.
If I had a hackle it would stand straight up and a chill comes over me
When I remember that day.
I am left with a gnawing unresolve about it all.
I pray that I go to my death
Following a dream.