Last week I featured a poem in this space by revered Hoosier poet James Whitcomb Riley. I have a close friend here on Okinawa who grew up around Indianapolis and has a working knowledge of some of his state's more famous literary figures. When I told Daniel that I was including a poem by James Whitcomb Riley in this blog, he told me an interesting story about where Riley is buried and a small movement to take some of the shine from Mr. Riley's apple.
James Whitcomb Riley is buried in Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis. At 555 acres and over 25 miles of paved roads, it is the third largest non-governmental cemetery in the United States. In addition to being the final resting place for Riley, it is also the permanent home to a U.S. President (Benjamin Harrison), three Vice Presidents of the United States, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Booth Tarkington, and a "prison poet" by the name of Etheridge Knight.
James Whitcomb Riley is buried atop a modest hill, or mound, which is the highest point in Crown Hill Cemetery. Several years ago a small band of intellectuals, at least one of whom's name is readily recognizable as a novelist and national speaker on men's issues, decided that Etheridge Knight was more in tune with the contemporary world than Riley - and the group resolved to honor his memory by each adding a handful of dirt to Knight's grave whenever they visited the sight. The obvious goal was to eventually have Knight's grave be higher than that of Riley.
Daniel said that the project "has a long way to go."
(If the plot sounds familiar, it is very similar to that of the 1995 movie which starred Hugh Grant as The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill and Came Down a Mountain.)
Enjoy the following poem by prison poet Etheridge Knight - and if you ever happen to find yourself in Indianapolis, take him a handful of dirt. All donations appreciated!
As You Leave Me
by Etheridge Knight
Shiny record albums scattered over
the living room floor, reflecting light
from the lamp, sharp reflections that hurt
my eyes as I watch you, squatting among the platters,
the beer foam making mustaches on your lips.
the shadows on your cheeks from your long lashes
fascinate me--almost as much as the dimples
in your cheeks, your arms and your legs.
hum along with Mathis--how you love Mathis!
with his burnished hair and quicksilver voice that dances
among the stars and whirls through canyons
like windblown snow, sometimes I think that Mathis
could take you from me if you could be complete
without me. I glance at my watch. It is now time.
silently, and to the bedroom and the paint;
on the lips red, on the eyes black,
and I lean in the doorway and smoke, and see you
grow old before my eyes, and smoke, why do you
chatter while you dress? and smile when you grab
your large leather purse? don't you know that when you leave me
I walk to the window and watch you? and light
a reefer as I watch you? and I die as I watch you
disappear in the dark streets
to whistle and smile at the johns