george is dead

he passed last week (i heard monday. jennifer wrote me)

two days after his 98th birthday
“george is dead, did u hear?” i wrote desperately to old friends i knew from our days at shakespeare and co.

 “yes,” said one. “I heard. A friend I know was there
just happened to be at the bookstore.
On the day he died, I went out of doors
down to the beach in front of my house
faced in a generally westerly direction and read
Auden’s ‘Funeral Blues’ aloud. It seemed
a fitting farewell, especially given how much George loved the sea…
The funeral is at Pere Lachaise tomorrow –
how I wish I could be!”

another wrote back, “I think I, too,
assumed he had staged his departure some time ago.
Well, at least there is Sylvia to carry on the tradition…
I guess we are really lucky to have those rich memories
and all good things must come to an end.
p.s. I finally turned in my old Wannabe drawstring napsack
for a real leather cross-shoulder purse!  Hell
I think my little napsack was older than George
(in napsack years, that is!)”

i wrote to another friend who had not known George but
knew me when i was living the bohemian writer fantasy
in paris kilometre zero:

“i finished the book last week,” i wrote
“my book begins with ‘george, shakespeare, and company’
very first story

maybe it’s that
or maybe it’s just that death is sad

i don’t know

something i never did put in a story: when i left the bookstore
he was so so sad
he was so worried for me
he wanted to make sure i was safe

he regretted every mean thing he had ever said to me
(“it’s too bad you’re not a communist”)

secretly i always thought it was the parting letter i gave him
made him realize i really was a writer (not just some kind of capitalist imposter)
made him stop his daughter Sylvia from closing the door on me – ten at night
made him ask her to let me in
made him sit up and pay me attention, ask me where i had been

or maybe he just cared”

yes, maybe
yes, that’s it

that’s it. a man named george has died.
and he cared.

he cared
for me, and for 39,999 other souls in need of a bed
a cup of tea
and for those who stayed and braved
a mouldy Sunday pancake, gulped down gratefully
washed down with hot burnt coffee

rest in peace george
i don’t know how to say goodbye

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