Lens-based artist Alastair Cook has done a remarkable job incorporating a poem I wrote in memory of our neighbour-friends’ son into a film-poem in his characteristic visual style. Be sure to listen through headphones to get the full effect of Vladimir Kryutchev‘s binaural recordings. The film will premiere at the Felix Poetry Festival in Antwerp soon.
I prepared my set for the Weird Words reading at the Beatrice Wood Center knowing two special friends would be in the audience. Although, as I say in the poem, I never knew their adult son, having lost my own son in his infancy, I feel a special connection with them.
One day, this poem came to me. I was nervous at first to share it with them. But they told me that they read it over and over in private. On that night, I read it to them in person for the first time. Needless to say it was difficult to keep reading through strong feelings. Kevin Wallace, director of the Center, videotaped the evening, and captured this moment.
Here also is the text of the poem:
I broke away from work to attend the dedication ceremony for my neighbor Mark Benkert’s new memorial sculpture to the Aliso Street Bear (a.k.a “Elliot”). In introducing me to read the poem I wrote dedicated to the bear, Mark also mentioned something remarkable about the process of sculpting the memorial.
For both Mark and I, the loss of the bear resonated deeply with the loss of our sons. As Mark was inscribing the letters “J” and “B”, the initials of his son, Jonah Benkert, the “B” also read much like a “P” — and he mentioned that “J.P.” reminded him of our own son, James Peake. Needless to say that by the time I took the microphone, I was nearly unable to speak.
Yet I managed to read my poem, honoring the bear, our sons, our community. The rest of the dedication meant a lot to me — from written poems and prose pieces, to impromptu verbal tributes, a song, and drumming. It was also a moment of catharsis for our community, coming together once more to honor all that the bear brought to us.
To learn more about how to promote the peaceful coexistence of humans and animals in the Ojai Valley, please visit the Ojai Wildlife League website.