Friday, August 15, 2008

Still Pissed That Earle Thompson Is Dead

I've mentioned before that I'm a total sucker for street intellectuals. Give me a fucked up genius with an alcohol problem, and I'll bend every rule I can find.

I knew Earle Thompson for more than a decade. Earle has a section in the celebrated Native American poet anthology Dancing On the Rim of the World. When he died a few years ago, Sherman Alexie wrote a remembrance that ran in Real Change. Earle would come in to see me regularly, usually drunk, with a handful of new poems. He was what I'd call a genial pain in the ass drunk: equal parts amusing and annoying.

One day, after he'd once again blown his sobriety despite the threat of a foot amputation, I invited him to write us his obit so we'd have it on file when he died. "The New York Times writes these things up way ahead of time. You're obviously going to die soon, so why don't you just save us some trouble and get it the way you really want it to read?"

He never wrote the obit. He did die. This poem of his has been on the staff bathroom bulletin board for a few months. I thought I'd share.

in the shelter last night amid
swearing, snoring
and sleeping
i dreamt of hunting with my brother
who died last september of a drug overdose
in a toilet and after we left mountains
in a music-filled tavern
he admitted smoking a cigarette
he didn’t want to kill bambi
the imaginary cute little fawn
and he shot a fallen tree instead
like rambo in the movies
he said he had always wanted to do that
somehow i became lost in the dark goya canyons
and blue forests
i fell and stumbled
closing my salted eyes in the black
i came upon bones of fallen deer
they had remnants of torn fur
bleached bone protruded
darkened flesh
brown marbled eyes glistened
in the night
i sought and climbed the walls they elongated
and curved to a faint glow
i crawled upward my breathing burned
i wiped my nose on the sweatshirt
shouted help me
i’m alive
a helicopter entered and spotlighted me
i prayed my eyes turned red
so they could find me
i felt warmth and the outline of the logging road
a arm reached out my brother had helped me
he was alright and the fluorescent lights
came on time to wake up
the staff said it was time to leave.

-Earle Thompson


"Uta" Urban said...

There are geniuses and decents and lovers of life who wander roughened among us not by choice. When we decide to look past the dirty symptoms of their modern circumstance, we get a gift. Love.

Thank you for sharing that, Tim.

susie said...

I first read Earle Thompson's poetry when I was proofreading Real Change. I was surprised to find two whole pages of poetry in most issues. At first I couldn't believe that I was reading such a poet as Earle Thompson in Real Change -- I mean, he was so excellent, so evocative, so heart-breaking -- it was just unexpected to find him in Real Change. My appreciation of Real Change (already high) went up quite a bit when I realized that they published this quality of poetry. Just about every poem of his that I ever read was like that first one I read -- striking, piercing language that grabbed you and shook you. I was sad when I learned that he had died, another casualty of our cruel world.

hylarious said...

Earle's gift to me, something I've found useful in an odd way, is a word. Exuviate. It's the title of one of his poems and I believe it means to blossom.

Reading Sherman's piece again and seeing this picture of Earle makes me miss him all over again. Thanks for posting this Tim.