Come down now as my hand slips from the dial, tired again of looking for the sound of another way to say everything. Come down now with your diction and your dictionary. Come down, Uncle, come down and help me rise. I have forgot my wings. --Jake Adam York, from “Letter Already Broadcast into Space”
The more I write, the more I wish Jake York were still here. Jake died six years ago this December, felled by a stroke during a holiday party. He was 40, a phenomenal teacher, and a gifted poet.
About a decade before he died, the husband and I sat with Jake in our back yard as late summer dusk fell around our shoulders. While we talked about Jake’s new apartment and his fall classes, a large bird flew overhead. Its white wings darkened to gray at their tips, and its head and beak were inked in black. What kind of bird is that? Jake asked.
It’s a night heron, I answered. They nest in City Park, just a few blocks away. Night herons are larger and more serious looking than seagulls, and, to my eye, they have some of the ferocity of a bald eagle. But their flight is unique–stillness in motion, a seamless defiance of gravity. Determined.
Jake loved jazz, and he loved barbecue. Once, after a brief conversation about music, he stopped by our house with a compact disc of “A Love Supreme,” along with a carefully typed document entitled “How to Listen to John Coltrane”. Jake savored every meal we shared with him and was horrified by the husband’s rushed gustatory habits. He once offered an admonishment in his baritone drawl, almost preacher-like: Brad, I do believe you don’t know how to pleasure yourself with food. In this week of feasting gratitude, read Jake’s beautiful poem, Grace, here, “because meals are memorials that teach us how to move.” And his poem, Abide, here, because we can never know how long love’s light has traveled to reach us.
Jake’s poem Letter Already Broadcast into Space, printed on one of his memorial fliers, is tucked in the back of my notebook. I keep a stanza from a Kahil Gibran poem in the same notebook. It asks:
What is it to work with love?
It is to change all things with a breath of your own spirit
And to know that all the blessed dead are standing about you