Friendship

Ed Lahey was the king of Montana poetry
for me, and I really wanted to meet him. So,
reluctantly, I made the effort to go introduce

myself, intrude upon his privacy. He lived
desperately alone. Ed invited me in under the guise
of literary kinship, but it was obvious to me

he was glad to have some company. I found him
to be open and as vain as me, blessed or cursed
with the gift of the gab, and I was fascinated by

his stories—the booze and Irish heritage, those
tales of revolution, drugs, mental hospitals, and loss—
breakdowns I felt connected to. The images

in his verses, the voices, his hard words—some sort
of working class elegance was starkly laid bare,
and his deeply resonant baritone invoked the stony

mythology of Butte, its immigrant stiffs and worn-
down women, their dirty urchins running wild
in gangs while the clank and rattle of the industrial

age siphoned all from the inside out. The survivors,
those tough huddled masses yearning to dance
and sing after each shift after shift after shift of drill,

blast, muck, and drink, religiously believed Lady
Liberty—the inalienable right to breathe free. Ed
Lahey embodied that for me, and I recognized

my father inside him, shouldn’t have been
surprised they were born on the same day
in Butte, twenty years apart, two Cancers

I’ll take to the grave. Ed and I began visiting
regularly at his apartment usually over beer
or coffee. I know he looked forward to those

dates, the companionship, something to do
outside his head. He told me so. Ed was honest
with me, but some days his mind wouldn’t play

with his heart. We tried to do what friends do,
stay true to it, the relationship, that Tuesdays
with Morrie story, and we did, up until the end.

Those last few years in the nursing home were
no fun for anyone as many of you know from
your own time spent signing in on death row.

Still, showing up is an honorably conflicted love
that rarely gets romanticized. We know the poems,
like us, will eventually disappear, dissolve to dust.

The value we place on fame or acclaim, our desire
to be read and respected for our tales of sense and
sensibility, won’t survive (most likely much longer

than us) embossed with our names on some post-
digital shelf. This life, this waking awareness
we are, knows only itself, so we get to decide what

matters to us. Today I think not of words, poems or
books, those paper trails we leave behind. What’s been
the best for me are the ephemeral moments, the memories,

those conversations and connections, our devotions to
each other, to being here, together, whenever we can—
hoping the sunset fades slowly into the long dark night.

This entry was posted in Updates. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *