the appian way

23 september 2015

For Walter Rose and and Ronda Rae Rose.

Youth seeks wisdom from the marrow of its bones. Like Adam’s clay, we yearn for texture, not the fabric we are taught in schools. As a young man, and into my adult life, I always cherished and cultivated friendships with older folks—black, white, purple, hetero, and homo—all human beings nonetheless. The more you see, the more we all become the same. I learned the value of listening, and learned to appreciate how much I could say by talking with my ears. By age 13, I had more desire to learn about my great-grandfather interned at Buchenwald than going surfing or shotgunning beers. I spent a few years at NYU and participated in a program called Visiting Neighbors. (I wish it could be started in New Orleans). We spent time with the elderly: making groceries, talking, coffee, museums, theatre, reading. The profound mundane. My partner was Davis Platt; in April, I bought a book by the NYTimes columnist David Brooks. I came across Davis’ name: it turns out that his first lover was Bayard Rustin, the father of the Civil Rights Movement (in my opinion, A. Philip Randolph being the Granddaddy and MLK the crucified Son). Davis and I spent two years together, and he passed away in 2009 while I was in Spain. I wrote this elegy for him; I’ve lost two people in the past two weeks. Death is always a mirror for our own lives. It’s a contemplative catharsis; when someone passes, we cannot deny our own selfishness refracted through their passing. No matter where that soul goes, we follow it with our hearts, with our memories, and with the love that person buried deep: it seeps through the pores of our skin. Maybe death is not so much a goodbye: it reminds us of the presence of merely a physical absence. But love and time stay within us forever.

We fear lonesomeness in both others and ourselves. That’s what makes us baulk, makes us curdle. Our unhappiness comes from our search for everything we posses within, by looking out. Like the throat of an accordion, we are full when squeezed….

I watched the film Brother Outsider on my computer a few weeks ago, about Bayard Rustin. I had read in a book by David Brooks, half a chapter about Rustin. In the book, he mentioned Davis Platt. And I thought, no, something on the NYTimes bestseller list…must be a coincidence; Davis, the old gentle cat of perpetual glee that I spent so much time with on 23rd Street. We went to Gristedes, guzzled coffee; his hand always trembled from Parkinson’s, and there was always spilt coffee in the saucer. More there than in the cup. Blue and white china, or Delft; always with stale cookies. He lived amongst books—books stacked, books strewn, books cast, coveted, dusty, deflowered, nubile; books, books, a unique architecture of books. It was these books, not the man, who lived there. Davis merely slept, amongst ink and bound paper, in a soft cover library. Archangel Gutenberg, he who annealed God’s tongue to pulp. We took away the meaning of words once we wrote books… I sat on my bed and watched until lo! there was Davis in the film. He was extremely young when he met Rustin; they were both Quakers; and, to an extent, both sons of privilege. I say that because Davis’ being was so liberated from his flesh. His body was in the comfort of flight; his bones were hollow as a bird’s; that’s why he broke them so often. But he could fly, man. Ideas were his perch; trees and their limbs were his thoughts, his moral canopy. With a fiber and integrity thick as leather. His face was mottled with freckles, with the bruises of age; but what held me tightest was his sincerity—the grace and poise of his sincerity. He was a man bound to personal gravity; in an age which vacillates and polarizes, he had only a barometer of honesty. Life was love, and I knew it when I held his hand. Rustin told people who beat him, ‘You cannot hurt me, you cannot hurt me.’ If one refuses to accept pain, one cannot be harmed. To Davis we say, you can heal me, you can heal me. Courage is like carbon; ubiquitous, yet only useful to those who fix it.

It is a selfish hope of mine that, as a young man, (the same age as Davis when he met Rustin), that there was an osmosis. Of all of our afternoons. Our plays in the Village, dinners, lunches, operas, ballets, coffee. Of the light bulbs I twisted, the dishes washed, the narrow New York City grocery aisles. Sunshine through the clouds, a defiance to loneliness. As a darkroom, I hope that my paper was exposed to the light of his image. Until I came of age and met the kiln, I pray that there are fingerprints of Davis’ upon me; in my form, in my character. I want, selfishly, to draw a line through Lascaux, touch a twig to Prometheus’ palm…hoping that there is an ember, a capillary, a splinter of yarn that is skeining ever closer to me because of my time with Davis Platt.