Friday, April 25, 2008

charlie howard's descent

I lived in Bangor in 1984 when Charlie Howard was murdered, tossed over the bridge into the river below, like a coin, or worse, a piece of rubbish. I participated in the vigils that followed, I stood on that bridge with a candle in my hand and can remember, as if it were yesterday, the carload of teenagers driving by and yelling "hope you all brought your life jackets." I won't ever get over it, really, and it changed me, forever. Part of the fire in my belly comes from that experience, part of the reason I will likely die with my boots on as an activist, yep, i will. die. with. my. boots. on. fighting, running my mouth, advocating, marching, protesting, organizing. There's just no such thing as "I'm too tired", is there Lady Bug.

A friend sent me this poem about Charlie, and a link to a video of the author, Mark Doty, reading it aloud. It's just...powerful.

Seems appropriate to post this on the National Day of Silence, and in memory of Charlie Howard, who I did not know, but who was my brother just the same.

Charlie Howard’s Descent
by Mark Doty

Between the bridge and the river
he falls through
a huge portion of night;
it is not as if falling

is something new. Over and over
he slipped into the gulf
between what he knew and how
he was known. What others wanted

opened like an abyss: the laughing
stock-clerks at the grocery, women
at the luncheonette amused by his gestures.
What could he do, live

with one hand tied
behind his back? So he began to fall
into the star-faced section
of night between the trestle

and the water because he could not meet
a little town's demands,
and his earrings shone and his wrists
were as limp as they were.

I imagine he took the insults in
and made of them a place to live;
we learn to use the names
because they are there,

familiar furniture; faggot
was the bed he slept in, hard
and white, but simple somehow,
queer something sharp

but finally useful, a tool,
all the jokes a chair,
stiff-backed to keep the spine straight,
a table, a lamp. And because

he's fallen for twenty-three years,
despite whatever awkwardness
his flailing arms and legs assume
he is beautiful

and like any good diver
has only an edge of fear
he transforms into grace.
Or else he is not afraid,

and in this way climbs back
up the ladder of his fall,
out of the river into the arms
of the three teenage boys

who hurled him from the edge -
really boys now, afraid,
their fathers' cars shivering behind them,
headlights on - and tells them

it's all right, that he knows
they didn't believe him
when he said he couldn't swim,
and blesses his killers

in the way that only the dead
can afford to forgive.

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