In retrospect, there were reasons why I had avoided telling you I'd be in town this time, even above and beyond worrying that the mind police might indirectly implicate me for your halfparanoid antigovernment manifestos and other ranting essays on injustice that you said you were in the midst of. I mean, who really knows the implications of hanging out with a retired left-wing journalist...perhaps they have airport dogs that sniff that stuff out now, and then they put you on no-fly lists? Yes, and I thought you were the paranoid one. Much easier to let you be the engaged boddhisattva, and for me to be disengaging in everything at that time. Much easier for me to be the good Zen Scout and sit on my cushion looking at the wall with all of the other Zen Scouts and Zen Masters than for me to take you up on the invite and sneak off to a reading at Trieste Café and then later have to duck into the zendo in the middle of walking meditation, uncertain if my own mind or the minds of others could be convincingly wrappable around the nonduality of meditation, beat poetry and anything else in this life and, if that was not the case, of the lame excuse I would feel I was obliged to have to make up as a result. Perhaps I would have told myself something about the nonduality of human experience and the universe both inside and outside the zendo and if there were many universes and not just one, then the nonduality of the myriad universes filled with as many bodhisattvas and other enlightening beings as grains of sand in the Ganges moving about in each one of our sweaty pores, cheering us on, encouraging us, actualizing themselves in us whether we are in the zendo or outside in the chilly December air.
In the months preceeding, there had been the calls at odd hours, the trailingvoiced messages on my cell phone that went as such: “Hey, just got back from a couple of weeks alone in the Sierra Nevadas at the cabin of a friend. Really inspiring there, and wrote some new stuff. What are you up to? Written any new material lately? Give me a ring, my new number is...” And when we did talk you would say: “Oh, just so you know when you call, whatever you do, don't leave a message on the phone. Best just to let it ring twice and hang up. I'll call back. I'm between apartments. And the place I'm staying at here in the city for awhile belongs to an old friend of mine only she doesn't know that I kept a key or that I am hanging out here while she's away.” And so all of that left me worried that maybe like you, I would also become some hermitmonklikebeing that would also wander from place to place: in destitution, hunger, failing health, and lack of any personal reputation. Perhaps by only thinking about it, I was already that...but there was some need at the time to think that I was above that. And also secretly worrying that perhaps you would actually show up knocking on my apartment door halfway across the country sometime. I mean, really, there's not much space in my place anyway and if it's hard enough already to find a girlfriend to hang out with in my present situation, imagine all the harder with you some disheveled homeless bohemian modernday Han Shan crashing out in my place. Why did we share poetry in the first place anyway? You seemed to have an inexhaustible capability for romanticizing about the woman you left in Spain and all of those visceral images of being in love with the Spanish countryside and her voice, and the smell of honey in the air, and on and on, as described in your only book of poetry. I really had no time for any of that realm, since I was busy taking control of my life and looking to the future and not backwards to the images associated with my own failed marriage. The disturbing scenario of your unexpected, and even uninvited, visit played out in my head even though I was so busy with my own selfimprovement things that I never took time to notice that the only disheveled, homeless, halfparanoid poet abiding in my apartment during all those months was really just myself.
So, it was hesitantly good to see you at the calligraphy opening and I'm glad there were no hard feelings, at least expressed. And even though you looked like hell things were looking up, you had found a place to live and your Flamenco girlfriend had come to town and had gathered up a stack of your stuff and had peddled it to the first patriarch of Beat who had looked at it and thought it was pretty good, at least he wrote to you as such, so maybe it would be published after all, at least there was to be a meeting in the near future. It all sounded good. Really good. I was glad for you about that. So, I left you sitting there, more happy than ever in my mind, and went on to look at the calligraphy.
So, six months later, at a random moment, I realized that after the opening, after returning to Houston, without my even noticing, your phone calls had all stopped entirely. Not knowing how to see what's up, since you always were too paranoid, I think, to use email, at least that was my guess, but maybe you had other motives for not using the internet, I ended up using Google to find you...the last place you would really be, and in the end, I didn't really find you, but there was the unexpected memorial. A friend wrote of your life and said that in the end you had died, of kidney failure, in your sleep, with your beautiful Flamenco lover in your arms. And I am sorry I never said goodbye, or even said hello, regretting that I never took you up on the journey to North Beach, but I am happy that things came together in the end. Other poets have now written you tributes, so there is no need for this one, but I shall write it anyway. The strange part is that, of those at the calligraphy opening, no one that I talked to could remember you. I asked around a bit and no one recalled you there or anywhere else that I had met with you. And I find myself somewhat like that bewildered government official running out of the temple chasing after Han Shan in the deep, cold misty peaks. Like Han Shan, you have walked deeply into the mountain itself, and closed rocks and forest in behind you. And I am left only with your verses. In my journeys, I see them written on walls, rocks, gates, and trees. I see them written on clouds, waters, wind, and the reflection of sunlight and moonlight on the waters. I see them written, and I am both uplifted and grateful. Even though I cannot directly thank you, I must directly thank you. Thank you very much.
About Glen Snyder