It occurred to me several times in the last few months to get in touch with K–when I moved back home in May it crossed my mind that maybe I should let him know I was back; on my way to a friend’s lecture in Makati in July I thought of inviting him to join me; one early morning when I was in La Salle, where he taught, to do a workshop, I remembered, and promptly forgot, to message him and ask if he was in the area; as I prepared the new edition of my first book, launched in mid-November, I finally looked up the essay he had written about it and again, for a second there, I wondered how he was and made a note to text him soon. K was one of those rare creatures not on Facebook, and that had somehow made him infinitely harder to get a hold of. In the last couple of years I was in touch with him sporadically by email and text, and occasionally, while I was living in the US, through his friends whom he sent my way. In Albany one of the first people I met for coffee was a friend of his from graduate school in Iowa. At a party in his house a month or so later, he showed me K’s winter coat, which K had asked him to transport to Albany and give to me (we decided that he should keep the coat because, well, K and I were clearly not the same size). In NYC, after listening to Cole Swensen lecture, I went up to her to have my book signed and mentioned that my friends back home in the Philippines loved her work. “Oh, do you know K?” she asked (he was her student). “Yes!” I said, most probably too enthusiastically (I get either really reticent or really wired when starstruck), but then Swensen seemed pretty thrilled too, telling me how lovely he was, that I should say hi to him for her, that she owes the title to one of her poems in her latest book to him, that she thanked him for it in the book.
I became friends with K because of friends we had in common, people who read and write poetry. Like some of these friends, K’s appetite for poetry was insatiable, his devotion to it the literary equivalent of religious. He committed his mind and life to it. He was intense. His poetry (here and here) is difficult to read; he is unafraid to be difficult. His critical work (here, here, and here) demonstrates how exacting and incisive he is as a reader. The one year we happened to teach in the same department, I was exposed (at times subjected) on a regular basis to his love for abstractions, for big ideas, for critical jargon. But I also got to know his silliness, his penchant for making weird faces, his general chumminess. He was privy to my secret guilty pleasure of watching Grey’s Anatomy and took it upon himself to supply me with a newly downloaded episode each week. He gave me a headband with devil horns equipped with a switch that could make the horns light up, which he suggested I wear to class after enduring another one of my rants about students not taking my deadlines seriously. We took a beginner’s French course together that summer, and it was funny to watch him confidently mangle his way through daily recitation despite obviously not having done the reading for class. I don’t know how many times he drove me home that year even though where I lived wasn’t exactly on his way.
Among my stash from K is Joseph Albers’s Interaction of Color (a book I’d been wanting to have after a weirdly emotional encounter with Albers’s squares in a museum), a Booksale find he bestowed on me before he left for Iowa, and a copy of Lydia Davis’s Samuel Johnson is Indignant, which he had the author inscribe for me when she visited his campus. (I would later study with Davis and enjoy the privilege of her comments scribbled on my drafts, which makes K’s gift prescient in the loveliest possible way.) He put a lot of music on my itunes, some of which I haven’t even properly listened to, but there are two albums I’ve listened to intently and have loved since, St. Vincent’s Marry Me and Challengers by the New Pornographers. I adore those albums so much they are two of the maybe seven or eight vinyls I own. Only now do I remember it was K who loaded those albums on my itunes, figuring I would like them.
I haven’t said hello to K in ages, and that is something to regret. I’m also no good at goodbyes, so no goodbyes. In the meantime I’ll listen to St. Vincent stuff her suitcase full of blues. See you around, K.