REMEMBERING RAY – AUG. 2,1998 – FOR TESS
The invitation reads:
“Please come together with
friends of Raymond Carver
and Tess Gallagher for
a graveside remembrance
marking the tenth anniversary
of his death.”
He calls to say he cannot come.
Soon enough, his decision, and
his million mile “Carver Car,”
are in Reverse, then in Drive:
500 actual miles to go, even so.
One more Carver story heading
north. A Vietnam story Ray did
not write. Dead broke, burning oil,
blowing through Carver country.
Timber country. Middle-class.
Friends and family rode hard,
put away drunk, deconstructed.
Asleep in one world, slapped awake
too late in another. Too many
overpacked for the wrong trip.
You learn to laugh, knowing
you don’t get the whole joke: like,
sure you can get to a better place,
but if I were you, I wouldn’t start
from here. Love, braced or not,
on the leading edge of disaster.
Folks trapped with no answers
to all the wrong questions.
Ray wrote their stories as he lived
his own, gave them full, unexpected
dignity without ever letting them
off the hook: “negative epiphanies.”
He drives afternoon into evening
into Portland. He drives before
and after a clear quarter moon,
bypasses Seattle, up Hood Canal.
He keeps checking the time until
he sees that it’s nearly ten thousand
years since great cataclysmic events
have ended, after glacial ice, after
exploding mountains, lava floods,
draining seas, his last new car. He
edges up the Olympic Peninsula, heads
west, past Port Townsend. Past tired.
Past New York and London
and Paris news. This day they will
remember Ray: America’s Chekhov.
He remembers Ray when Ray was
one more Carver story. He lived
with Ray before Ray was anyone’s
Chekhov. And he loved Ray, even so.
He is past living under love’s false
light, its dry lighting, its underpaid,
overworked glory, debunked daily,
story by story. Ray, who would echo
Chekhov: “Peasant blood flows in
my veins, you cannot astound me
with virtues of the peasantry.”
When he arrives in Port Angeles
he reads: Ocean View Cemetery
open Sunrise to Sunset. It is after
Sunset. Before Sunrise. His car
inches forward. Crunch of gravel.
Beams of light. He brakes near
enough to the sheer cliff edge.
Victoria’s lights bridge miles of
night-swallowed sea. He listens.
The Strait of Juan De Fuca alive.
Always awake. A flow of black ink.
Behind him a field of graves.
Monolithic, familiar, so many
stand no higher than new cut
grass. He has been here before.
With praying hands he bows to
whatever remains, says to all,
“You know I mean no harm.”
He knows you should not lie
to the dead, that the dead
almost never get it wrong.
He walks fifteen paces toward
the black granite bench beside
the black granite bed below
its Buddhist chimes. He stands
silent as smoke floating through
chill of night. Immense enough
and clear. He almost smiles and
says, “It’s good to be here, Ray.”
Then, somehow – don’t ask him
how – one chime sounds.
He lights the new white candle
inside round red glass as sticks
of incense burn in foil-covered
potted soil under Safeway flowers.
His blanket between bench and bed,
between a rock and a hard place.
In pale rose light he reads:
May 25, 1938 – Aug. 2, 1988
Poet, Short Story Writer, Essayist
Engraved below is Ray’s last poem:
LATE FRAGMENT. The poet calls
himself beloved, feels himself
beloved on the earth, even so.
He reads one more “last” poem: Gravy.
It begins, “No other word will do.
For that’s what it was. Gravy.”
And later, “Don’t weep for me….
I’m a lucky man. I’ve had ten years longer
than I or anyone expected. Pure gravy.
And don’t forget it.”
Tess was Ray’s rock before the granite,
His luck and his love. Tess lives, will live
and rest with Ray, in peace, which is ALL
in the end, and all that will remain.
Later, under wide arch of coal-blue
sky, he reads his own say:
FOR RAY – AUG. 2, 1998
“Loved these ten years out into galaxies,
and spoken unto death on earth: your going,
like trapping a scent with empty hands,
a going so clear it will take us longer
to realize, being something harder
to say than candlelight is fire. Our
own silences deepen as you deepened,
slowly, into that intimacy of unlearning,
toward these ten years past long
forgotten roads we came by.”
He lies down to sleep, and now knows
there are no roads, and he has been
on every one. No roads. Only rhythms.
Not a place. A dance. And he is late.
And he knows how timing counts.
He drifts into a fog beyond war.
Soon enough, sunrise coming up
over the strait, sunrise coming up
over granite. Awakened by sunrise.
And it’s a good one. Even so.