To Mike, a Last Word

(In memoriam Michael Alan (Vampyre Mike) Kassel, 1953-2008)

You wouldn’t talk to me for more than four years,
so I stayed out of your face if I could.
Mostly you stayed out of mine.
The one time you had to speak to me, at the Lerner memorial at Dylan’s,
you were civil, and told me where to stand on stage.  I thanked you.
But you hadn’t changed your mind that I’d betrayed you.
I hadn’t expected you to.  I resented being rejected, though.
I wore your Going For the Low Blow T-shirt
inside-out to the Main Library café
so I wouldn’t advertise your book,
the day, I think, before you died.
But when I was in the same library café Monday afternoon,
and Julia phoned me with the news,
I said “Oh shit!” because it was such a waste.
I don’t expect you’ll want to talk to me now either.
But on the occasion of such an important
career transition as yours, I’ve just got to update you.

You’ve left a mess behind here, asshole!
Pasha and Kathleen are both totally broken up.
Both have accepted hugs from me.
Della was having a hard time already.
I should have told her you had said
she was totally beautiful, and totally evil.
You were so proud of her!  At least
you had the wit to love strong women.
A lot of women will have to be strong, now that you’re gone.

Nobody knows what to do without you.
You officiated solemnly at Polly’s wake,
and brought balloons to David Lerner’s, proclaiming
you were going to put the “fun” back in “funeral”!
You were drafted into the elegy corps
again and again like the rest of us,
and fired off shots as sharp and as honorable as any.
You wrote the Micheline elegy that I remember,
and it’ll help me remember Jack as I ought to remember him.
You honored each dead as each death needed it
and helped the survivors put themselves back together.
Well, you were of the priestly line,
you were a master of ceremony.
I was at a Seder you led upstairs at the Warrington.
David Lerner was there, Jewish as us, Jewish as anybody,
but a red-diaper who’d never been inside a shul,
a Gargantua for appetite and size,
and he kept pointing and interrupting and asking,
“Can we eat that now?  Can we eat that now?”
with a chorus of teenagers giggling around the table.
You handled it with harassed aplomb
and steered us through the Maxwell House Haggadah,
resolute and stern, your head lifted
like Moses walking the people across the sea.
Who’s going to handle the ceremonies for you?
There’s at least as much chaos.
There’s at least as much to put together, and as many.

But hey, the band’s gotten back together again.
It took you dying, but the band’s back together,
all the headless Wyrms, and Steve’s firefighter buddy Bruno
to succeed you on guitar.  Of course no one can replace you.
The same old studio, now with an extra door of iron bars.
We’ve had two rehearsals, and we’re working better together already.
We’ll miss your inspiration.  But we’re a bit relieved
it doesn’t have to be all your way anymore.
And the rest of us are ready to admit we don’t sing that great either,
and look for someone who really can.
You insisted on singing all your own songs.  But hey,
now that the only thing that could shut you up finally has,
we may even get a real singer and put them over.

But I still have a hard time seeing the old graffiti: “Ice Wyrms Rule!”
And I have a hard time remembering
driving up with you and David Lerner to Nevada City.
Laura drove Joie up separately.
Laura laughed when we got there late;
we’d had to turn back an hour into the trip
to get David’s back pillow
and you and I were both pissed.  As usual,
I did the driving and you did the kvetching
and you did a better job than I did.
Laura laughed and called us “The Traveling Jewish Poetry Circus”.

And when I remembered that after you were dead
I cried for the first time.  Fucker, you’ve stuck me
with being the sole survivor
of the Traveling Jewish Poetry Circus.
Pasha tried to help with a small paper ceremony.
In my sink down here in the basement
I burned two Chinese Hell Bank Notes
she slipped me for me to offer to you.
“He’ll need cigarette money”, she told me,
“and it burns up real easy.”
And I remember your rants on the subject of the Chinese,
so it gives me a grin to think of you
going into a Chinese Hell Bank
and confronting a Chinese demon teller
for the cash for your habit.  What the hell,
what does it matter if you smoke now?
Besides, Pasha said you actually liked Chinese funeral money.
But the notes I burned set off my smoke detector.
A loud alarm, if you like,
to alert the dead
that a Klingon warrior is coming.

© David Gollub
San Francisco, CA, 5/1-2/2008

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