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August 7, 2020 | Rome, Italy

Non c’è più

By | 2018-03-21T18:25:39+01:00 November 5th, 2007|Area 51|
I found his old “lines,” typed, in a notebook glued to a folder of my love letters...
I

met Rich Frady in 1971, my first year at Columbia University on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. In those days, the university was the domain of hectic cockroaches and narcotized freshman that sat in dormitory lounges glued to afternoon reruns of “Superman,” the black-and-white 1950s version starring George Reeves. Frady did his share of “Superman” gazing until one day he crawled out on a 10th-floor window ledge and sat there mute and resistant to coaxing. The school expelled him. Its quota of suicides exceeded, it disowned his destructive potential. He never did explain himself. He instead returned hometown, near Seattle, Washington, and I didn’t hear from him for a decade.

He visited Rome in the autumn of 1981. I barely recognized his voice when he called. “It’s Rich,” he said “You know, from the ledge.” Rich, the taciturn gargoyle. I greeted him and we met for coffee near the Pantheon. It was just after the assassination of Anwar Sadat in Cairo. He’d left the United States, he said, because the sinister repetition of the taped images of the attacks made him feel vulnerable and weak. Newborn CNN aired the footage relentlessly to assert its nonstop presence. “You can’t do that to people without getting consequences over time,” he told me. The worst such consequence, he suggested, would be to put dread-peddling ahead of all else, exhausting the range of imagination. Eliot’s suspension of disbelief would become redundant. There would be nothing to suspend.

To Rome, Frady brought a sheaf of poems. He said the writing kept him occupied at the worst of times, unemployed in Seattle and Chicago. He had married but was estranged from his wife. He called his poems “lines,” a term used by Stephen Crane. Since he knew I’d once dabbled in verse he asked me to read them. “Let me know,” he said. I fully intended to when I called the Albergo Sole on a Friday after the rainy Wednesday we’d met. But he’d checked out. “Quello lì non c’è più,” a desk clerk explained laconically. Since the Sole was budget hotel with a reputation (then) as a dive, comings and goings meant nothing.

Two weeks ago, sifting through the Internet’s daily clutter, I decided to look for him, though I can’t say why. I found many references to Frady (mostly to the fine southern biographer Marshall Frady, who died in 2004). But Rich was nowhere obvious. Only when I honed my search to include first Seattle and later the state of Washington did I learn of his death, in 1994, and under gruesome circumstances, at the age of 39. He had joined the lumber industry, a trade whose raw physical side rarely forgives error.

I found his typed “lines” from 1981 in a notebook glued to a folder with long-forgotten love letters and brittle sheets of carbon paper. They turned my palms black. Here are 10 of Frady’s poems, his “lines,” which deserve the light of day, because they themselves do without it.

”Lost girlfriend”

You made a boyfriend

from vowels alone and

I dream

his pregnant face.

”Salesman”

Have you spoken to those lovers about

Tomorrow?

Burnt coals on the lam

They deserve to know

You won’t be coming back.

”Feud”

Don’t touch that headline.

Leave me this fight.

My tongue’s meaty cleavage

Is dumb with adventure.

To protect the motherland

You’d break a tooth

On foreign ceramics

Evidence it wasn’t you

Who started the pain.

”Vivisection”

One story from our marriage concerns the cat

the day you swam and it followed —

Unusual for a cat to tread water

To make a fuss before the last

Party of its life —

Under lifeless, broken armpits

Is the next story

Which was trapped

inside th• animal itself.

”Negotiator (to a woman on a ledge)”

A tall surge of

Ladders; I overturn all

That’s common to get to

You —

”God’s excuses”

I had myself to blame for the

Way Christ left enraged.

He told the dead to rise

Said he’d ask just once.

But I thought to myself, “Here is a man with

No allies” —

And he took to me

Weaned me on disciples,

Fed me snakes,

Wanted me to rule the Earth.

Sick with confidence

I went fishing —

then came faith.

”Lymphoma”

By the bed

Lay the armor

A syringe and

A history of brave knights

How they stared down pain —

So when it doesn’t hurt

Don’t tell us how it could:

We have not died.

”His cancer ward”

Go ahead, start with the spirit world

Wring some ache from the mumble

Be where gravity won’t look —

It’s not death you fear

Or so you say

And such words keep me busy.

”Combat fatigue”

A great delusion, that the human spirit

Is capacious, made full to hold.

Not so —

You fall asleep on a lozenge

Giddy dirt that gets to ticking.

Now rise.

”Richter scale”

The earth is hungry to subtract —

Bones go first, then women and

Children, a wild fissure is what

The world can make of itself on

A shaky day, sum up the planet’s

Aging gluttony and you reap this

Quaking — down beckoning a

Token from above, no denying

Such rock logic, broken — and

The scale’s mean number is the

Menu for tonight, the flatlands

Mere appetizers, when the city

Thins out only dinosaurs will

Return the favor.

About the Author:

Christopher P. Winner
Christopher P. Winner is a veteran American journalist and essayist who was born in Paris and has lived in Europe for more than 30 years.

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