Falling Death – an elegy

Black bird a crow or raven only a matter of a pinion legs stiff in the air on its back situated like an omen under a crab apple near Denver’s Acropolis in Cheesman Park I ask my wife did she see it as we drive around the pavilion after a Thursday afternoon screening and she asks should I take a picture and I say it looks like an abandoned prop. No pictures.

Ten days before, my niece Jana calls on the landline which no one dials but I see her name on the one handset that rings and I know why she is calling so I pick up already full of remorse for not getting out to see her husband over the last year and she confirms my fear Rod has passed a few days prior and after crying through the first spate she was sitting with her father-in-law when she decided to tell me personally about Rod’s death. Jana’s sister was calling most people. She didn’t have a number for me but her daughter suggested she try her husband’s flip phone. My wife and I walk down the block to tell our son and wait while his wife puts the girls to sleep and when she descends the stairs we ask where Dexter is thinking he is helping with storytelling and tucking in the babes but it turns out he’s gone out with friends so we tell her Rod has died and we’ll talk to the bon fils in the morning because he was close to Rodney and never got out to see him this last year. My wife spent the waiting time cuddling with the son’s Australian shepherd who she whispering warned against dying since his wife’s family dog from her teenage years had just died the week before and our cat was showing signs of life fatigue and there was just too much dying going around.

Friday night we had tickets to the sold out show about Wax Trax, the record store that Jim and Dannie had opened in Denver in 1975 after escaping Wichita. Jim’s daughter Julia directed Industrial Accident about the scene at the Chicago store they opened in 1978 and the label they produced but we were anxious to see what the movie said about Denver and in one of the early scenes with Jim and Dannie about to be arrested after complaints about a concert loud party above the Ogden Street store my wife is seen standing behind the duo thrilled to be part of the glam and early punk scene in Denver because we were courting between Boulder her hip layout and Denver my punk apartment before moving into a duplex in Baker where we invited the Wax Trax gang to a black and white party where they all wore red. We visited Jim and Dannie a few times in Chicago but their world had gotten hard albeit they were always friendly and by the late eighties gays and druggies all around us start dying and so did Jim in Chicago, and my best friend who introduced my wife and me who was our son’s godfather died when the boy was twelve talking to his best friend till the end after we had started to excuse ourselves from seeing Mikey so debilitated someone who had been so vigorous.

The same day the crow lies dead, I’m walking Mac the King on First Avenue and I hear a bump as a car pulls off and see a white cat with a bushy tail squirming in the street in death throes that last ten or fifteen seconds before it’s over and I know the scene because I’ve seen it from an overlook walking in Old Québec a white cat with not so bushy a tail hit by a motorist the cat flailed for a long fifteen seconds before ghosting. I can’t go near a death so recognizable. I walk the dog a few extra blocks to catch my breath. We’re going to a conversation with an artist later at the old Holiday Theatre on the North Side.

The night before Rod’s memorial, Jana calls to ask if I can read the eulogy if her daughter isn’t up to it. Add something of your own, too. Of course, I say, as I’ve come to call myself the Speaker for the Dead in our family, but this is a new generation, not my mother or sisters or in-laws or friends, but my niece’s husband whose father still lives and when I read what Jana’s daughter has written I encourage her to find the strength to deliver the words herself, it is her voice. I talk to my wife and son early the day of the service to ask if they have favored memories of Rodney. I write a few paragraphs just before we leave the house. I don’t have to be the official speaker this time.

That Thursday, we saw a funny movie called the St. Bernard Syndicate in which two Danes set up a business selling big dogs to wealthy Chinese Saint Bernards not Great Danes. The investor partner was diagnosed with ALS before deciding to join this business crusade as a last fling. When Rod was 22, he was electrocuted wiring a billboard, was thrown off the catwalk, and was only saved by his brother who was working with him, who caught him by his ankles as he was falling, and held him in midair for five minutes before a ladder truck arrived. Rod was diagnosed with a brain tumor 15 years later, and battled that for 20 years, through surgeries and chemo treatments. His was a long last fling.

I quickly drank two glasses of Cabernet at the movie theatre before we listened to a conversation between a museum curator and famous artist who used regular materials like soda straws and index cards on a grand sculptural scale. Their conversation provided few insights to a stellar show we had already seen. The theatre was originally named the Egyptian, and wall frescoes had been revealed and restored beneath the plaster that was in place when I saw 13 Ghosts there as a kid. I didn’t tell my wife about the white cat whose tail swooshed and legs flipped about before it died. The wall paintings depict the spells the Egyptians cast for the dead as they travelled through the underworld. We went home to eat soup before it got cold.

“This morning Donna mentioned that she sees Rodney looking down on her from our roof, putting a skylight in our bedroom. As soon as he and I have it positioned, she says that she certainly doesn’t want a perpendicular light well through the attic, but rather a wide tapering light box. Rod complies to build an angled light shaft. Donna senses he thought her another homeowner with crazy ideas about construction. But Rod carried on, doing myriad projects for his family of friends. He wasn’t a war hero or sports star, but a regular guy with a sincere happy-go-lucky attitude, through all his surgeries and treatments. Remember him like Donna does, peering down from the roof, thinking through another puzzling conundrum, taking charge. That’s the kind of regular guy Rod was.”

His daughter says when Rod arrived home with a walker after one of his last surgeries, he paced the living room lap after lap until he didn’t need the walker. He wasn’t about to be disabled until his last days, his wife and kids crying.

I haven’t encountered any dead animals for the last few days only news about regular club shootings and wild fires burning cars and homes and people so thoughts of Rod and Jim and Mikey and the crow and white cat stand by me as memories that help me gasp for air through the smoke that even blows Denver way. Our son’s cat from Brooklyn got over her huffing to live more days. My mind glances the robin from years ago that banged its beak against the back window until it was bloody then did the same at my son’s house down the block before it became another dead bird with its legs in the air. Another prop? Falling death do us part.