Your death, as I remember it: a flash across the screen, The New York Times, a shot through the suburban near-dark, catching me off guard as I was mourning something else.
Why was I surprised? I’d known you were sick, having read your letter to Marianne that made its way into my online world. “Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine.” I think of her often: how it might feel to live and die as muse; to be known largely for having been in love, in the sixties, that undead decade. To be lit by myth.
And the myth is bullshit, but it’s hard sometimes to resist seduction. Greek summers in sun bleached houses, days and nights wine drunk and fever dreaming. Poet’s monasticism: the instrument hung lonely, the manuscript a mess on the table by the bed. The rooms bare, the windows open.
I am writing to you from a room of my own. The floor is fake wood, and the door triple locks. I don’t worship knowingly, but was characterized as a maker of shrines by someone I really loved once. It’s November, it’s January, it’s the middle of June. I look at my empty vase and my Bernie Sanders pin and feel a little ridiculous for having ever believed that anything could end well.
I look at a book of your interviews, marked but unfinished, one of the only things packed when I went to France at 23. At 604 pages, it’s an absurd indulgence, and I am trying to think of when I would have seen so many pages of a woman speaking, perfect bound. But for this reason, for me, you are forever inseparable from the hotel in Tours, the countryside by train, the sensation of being the sole unsleeping passenger on a darkened plane, floating through a space ruled by no true time.
I started this thinking I’d write about how good you are, which is way better than most. I have difficulty thinking of anyone with a comparable ability to articulate the sacred-seeming parts of that place beyond sadness, of sex, of being a person alive in the world. Your way of unpacking love and war and other problems, all the ways we hurt ourselves while sometimes wanting to. But you don’t need anyone to sing your praises—first, because you’re you, and second, because you’re dead.
Today I read a story about a boy who wrote pussy all over the back of his prayer book, like the word of God or the name of a crush. I was exhausted, and I thought of you. Lord, let me never be reduced to fruit or prayers or dripping honey ever again, amen. I want to be adored, but I want more: “to sleep in an open field, to travel west, to walk freely at night.” I would also like a living wage, and a president who has never sexually assaulted anyone.
In the wake of this disaster, omnipresent and multifaceted, I realize I’m losing interest in the words you might have had for this. To me this feels impossibly heavy and as big as the sky, and I’ve mostly let go of the idea that you’d say something to reassure me as America gets much worse. Maybe there is no comfort now, maybe I should stop looking to men provide it. I’ve been digging around, thinking of how to render this poetic but not romantic, lyrical but not less urgent. My tolerance for guys with guitars and a way with women diminishes further with each passing day. I get older, and I sit with this, and I become less certain of the use I have for you.
Leonard, why is her body your searchlight? Why are you the crucifix to which she clings? I know you read Andrea Dworkin, and I know you had a daughter and a son. When you said, “I wish the women would hurry up and take over,” how much of you was kidding? It has been my experience that men will say a thing like this and maybe mean it and still not text back.
What I am trying to say is that I am tired of taking it in all the time: watching women die, or get fucked, or fucked gently, placed among sirens or placed among saints. But women are not all Joan of Arc, or angels who sing backup and sometimes fall into your bed; they’re blood and bones and feelings, and—yes—flesh. But maybe you knew that; after all, when you reached your last chance to write anything, you wrote this:
“I’m so sorry for the ghost I made you be.
Only one of us was real and that was me.”
I say sometimes that I’ll go to Montreal; it seems beautiful and sane and manageably foreign. I haven’t left, not yet, though whether my reluctance to break the lease lies more in political conviction or a fundamental inability to direct myself toward happiness is anyone’s guess.
Madeline Kennedy lives in Chicago, IL, and listens to Joni Mitchell a lot these days. Her poems have appeared in Vagabond City and Persephone's Daughters, and she is a staff member at Winter Tangerine.