Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Elaine Restifo's Funeral - "I'm a River Poet" - prouder words can never be spoken / Poem: The Tyvek House

The River, Elaine wrote inside, is an experiment based on the message contained within the following Confucianist poem:
There was presented to me a papaya,
And I returned for it a beautiful chu-gem;
Not as a return for it,
But that our friendship might be lasting.
She continues: Since The River's inception in 1969, it has reached 18 states and 4 countries. ...It is dedicated to the Planet Earth and all its living organisms and systems, including us.

Carolyn Constable and I drove to St. Philips Chapel outside New Hope, PA for the celebration of the life and mind of the revolutionary activist poet painter Elaine Restifo.

Carolyn, a Catholic, said the Episcopal service was very similar to her own. Father Peter Pearson donned a beautiful white surplice with hood over his black priestly vestments. Handsome and small in stature, he conducted a magnificent ceremony.

Carolyn and I got there early but there were barely any seats left.

We saw - and please click on the links of these distinguished friends of Elaine:

Kathe Palke

Mason Loika, Ted Peck, and Janet Hunt, owner of the Coryell Gallery in Lambertville, NJ, and George Dabrowski, who drove Elaine around when she could no longer drive. George is a fine poet who often read his poems off scraps of paper.

Carolyn Constable

Roy Freedle

Bill Donlen

and Sandy Bender who played his bittersweet banjo, as he described it, during the service.

Many people came forward to testify what a wonderful person Elaine was and to share various experiences.

Elaine had the quality that everyone she talked to believed they were her best friend! I certainly did.

Carolyn stood up at her seat - we were crammed in - and said she'll always remember helping Elaine compile the The River. Elaine refused to number the pages, so one time when it was time to put them all together, they found a sandwich between the pages.

Ted Peck typed up all the poems. The man is about 88 years old and has written beautiful works about his family, often from his grandmother's point of view.

Still writing? I asked him when we were leaving.

Oh, yes, he said.

Elaine's daughter, Christina, a beautiful white-haired woman, read one of her mom's most beloved works: My Mother and the Gorilla.

The assistant pastor of the church read "The Ant Murderer," another favorite of the audience.

At the end of the service, Father Peter asked us to participate in an old monastic tradition of saying goodbye to the newly deceased. A living piece of greenery - in this case a pine bough - was dipped in water and handed to us - and then we placed it on Elaine's urn.

When my turn came, I danced the living pine over the urn, and then I touched the urn with my hand as a way of saying my final farewell. The lid came off! I couldn't really see what was underneath - something white, it seemed - and I quickly put the top back on.

Then I went over to say hello to her three children, the surgeon Frank from CT, the schoolteacher, also from another state, who said at the altar that he and his family would preserve his mom's tradition of making pizzelles every Christmas, and Christina, who I handed our most recent Compass. She was very helpful to me when I was losing kidney function.

During the ceremony, the priest asked us to spend a few moments of silence thinking about Elaine. She was quite a tall woman, about six foot two. "No need to use ladders," she said when I interviewed her in my 2004 Compass.

With my eyes closed, squeezed between Janet Hunt of the Coryell Art Gallery, and Carolyn, I saw tall Elaine striding over all of us, bigger than the church, just striding her way up to Heaven.

To read the fascinating interview with Elaine Restifo in the 2004 Compass mag, click here.

Elaine really liked my poem The Tyvek House, published in one of her Rivers. Here is both the house, which is around the corner from me, and the poem:


Tyvek is an insulation material applied to the interior of buildings before application of the final material such as wood or stone or siding.

Take this old house by the side of the road
Walk past its leaf-filled ditch and muddy garden
Rip out its walls and doorways
Stay there, don’t move,
Walk among the heaps of plasterboard,
the piles of rubble still unswept
Let it sear you, rush like water through you
And bring you no peace.

Don’t come and fetch me.
I’ll stay here among the ruins,
Quiet, dream-filled,
Lonesome as a stairwell,
Ringing like a bell,
One of a kind,
The house where I live.

Did you mark the days when they
Hammered the outer boards
Across the falling rot of splintered wood?
Did you see how frisky they were
Those laugh-aloud fun-finding fellows
stationed so effortlessly
on tall hinged ladders,
Three of them I counted, workmen
Bouncing words from roof to roof,
Or were they manly jokes,
Nails echoing clang clang
as they went in.
Thick-soled boots snug on tall rungs.

How we couldn’t help but laugh
the day the letters appeared – TYVEK -
blue, dark as mountains,
you’d know those letters anywhere –
ponytailed Y
Take-me-along K pointing off,
Off in the distance at some lonesome star.
How we rejoiced and continue to rejoice
at the coming of the words.

Leave it to us to notice from our
One unstained window
the predicament of the motorists
and the ditch-leaping joggers passing by,

Each one waiting,
querying among themselves,
When will it be finished?
When will the Tyvek be covered up for good?

Didn’t we fool them?
Didn’t we cause consternation?
We simply couldn’t do it.

We let the Tyvek stay.

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