Lanier’s Last Turn : : Precious

 I composed the first poem after Lanier’s death thirteen days before his memorial.  It was not a difficult poem to write because it was true to what happened.  It was a difficult poem to read.  I had not shared it with anyone before I read it.  I wanted it to be heard with the same immediacy it was written in.  Lanier was all about immediacy, authenticity in the here and now.  He had been my friend and older brother for thirty years.  He was one of the queerest folk I ever knew, the ultimate eccentric.  During the five years of our weekly radio show on WRFG, I never, literally never knew what Lanier would say next.  He was for me so random that had it not been for his profound kindness and genuine concern I would have stopped listening a long time ago.  We persisted in having lunch as often as our circumstances would allow.  Lanier lived on the edge for twenty years always on the brink and coming back a little more invisible.  In out last meetings he was a wisp of himself, a whisper I almost could not hear and yet I strained my ears.  He repeated himself, always saying thank you and I love you.  We knew for some time we were on the verge of our last conversation and still when he began to die I wanted to deny that he would.  The first poem is about how he did.  The second is from my collection titled Pink Zinnia.  When I looked for a poem to compliment the one I had written I realized I keep writing the same poem with different words whenever I need to say good bye. 



Atlanta Journal Constitution. AJCP372-079a, Atlanta Journal-Constitution Photographic Archives. Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University Library.
R. Lanier Clance, sitting in front of a Christmas tree, First Existential Church of Atlanta, Atlanta, Georgia, December 17, 1988. (AJC Photographic Archives) 

Sam, the night nurse
east Nigerian/Ibo
had midwifed death before
Sam said turn him
he said in dying we become rigid
and so need to be turned
there was an orange towel
on the bed under Lanier
I pulled in the direction
Sam told me to pull
Roger, Lanier’s nephew
gathered pillows
to arrange for maximum comfort
Sam turned Lanier to the side
where Roger and I sat
Rainbow Moon pulled in a chair
and sat with us in between
she turned to me and said,
“I haven’t blown you off
about the gourd books.”
I understand why
she had been here
and would be here
until the end
Rainbow Moon
had midwifed death before
we chatted about gourds
and I told her
of meeting
the Gourd Woman of Wrens
the Friday before
and had made the mistake
of asking her
how she got into gourds
we laughed as she told us
how she had gotten into gourds
Lanier was breathing deeply
listening to us
like we were windchimes
in his heart
Lanier loved the sounds
of conviviality

another radical philosopher
Stephen Levine once told me
we die as we live
I shook Sam’s hand
before I left
to steady me on my way home
I tossed and turned before Nancy
left me a message just before
I woke up
and then I fell into a deep sleep

Nancy told me she went in
to kiss Lanier good night
and his breathing was changing
becoming more spacious
Sam told her to get Pauline

surrounded by love
in his home
under his most vivid painting
Lanier died
as he lived
his last breath
a sigh of release
his last breath
a sigh of release
his last breath
a  sigh  of  release



the only thing life owes us
is out first breath
and it takes that back
in our last sigh

you have to be a psycho pomp
or a nincompoop to risk
explaining the in-between

why are some born rich
and some die poor?
why is beauty inequitably
even high intellect
is no guarantee of happiness
fair is only
an idea
one person’s valley
is another’s mountain
one person’s hill
is another’s vale

karma like the universe
has no edge
or middle
our lucky stars
die just like us

if you knew your next breath
was your last breath
you would sip it slowly
like a marvelous elixir
if your next sigh
was your last exhalation
you would let it go
ever so slowly
like that time of rapture
on the beach
when the clouds
were a perfect hallelujah
when the orb of the sun
dipped below the waters

everything we feel
is a gift
everything we hold
is a gift
everything we set free
is a gift

it is all so precious
it is all so precious
it is all so precious


 Obituary for R. Lanier Clance



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