Sunday, December 18, 2005

R.I.P. Peter Conti (aka Peter of the Earth)

I hadn't seen him in a few years, drifting apart when we moved to Virginia and never reconnecting after we returned, and had no idea he was sick, much less dying.

He missed his 30th birthday (today, Saturday) by one day.

I'll always remember the carefree Peter who let it all hang out when the music was playing and he was surrounded by friends. The Peter in the picture here (at the National Poetry Slam in Chicago, 1999, courtesy of David Huang), who stood by me as a friend that entire season when 'a little bit louder' was born into a community divided. The Peter who could go toe-to-toe with me in a debate without ever letting it get personal, because in the end, we were fighting for the same thing.

The Peter who introduced me to a kind of spirituality that didn't demand a church or a bible or any outward symbols, simply a desire to connect with something larger than one's self and draw strength from it.

The Peter we always joked about being my gay twin brother, and who, despite his own insecurities about his poetry and his performances, inspired me every single time he got on stage. The Peter who brought me to full tears three different times with one of those performances, more than any other poet I know.

The Peter who had a way with words and never, I think, truly realized how special and talented he was.

Not even death can take that Peter away from me. Or from anyone else who knew him well enough to call him friend.

Rest in peace, Peter.

And if there's anyone who could figure out a way to come back now and then and watch over his friends, I believe you'd be the one to pull it off. So I'll be looking for you every time the music's playing loud enough to get me on the dance floor; for that sign that it's okay to let loose sometimes and simply enjoy the moment.

Thank you for your friendship. You'll be missed, but never forgotten.

The Angelic

Angel joined my 8th grade class
seven months to graduation

I hated him
pegged him the type to pick fights
with buck toothed patos
like me
-but he didn't

Instead, he dated my best friend Victoria
became my friend too
and in two months had mastered the racket of the lunchroom Spit circle
slapping cards and smashing fingers
of boys not quick enough to grab the empty pile
I'd smile knowing each win
shifted "cool"
to a new elite

He didn't speak much of his being a foster-child
his mother-
or brother who made it to the home of a social worker. Baring his light like a
cross, he kept a sunlit disposition long enough for Ms. Valdez, the ESL teacher,
to find him too late to save or sooth scars incurred by the system. Carving a few
more when she decided to send him back.

final days lapsed-
stitching sunsets to our chest
leaking candlelit eternity
through stretched liquid wax
waiting for the wick to burn

The night before he was scheduled to leave he came to my house. We didn't
plan on his staying. My parents had gone shopping and told us he should be
gone by the time they got back. Defying them, I convinced my siblings to do
the same, help me hide him-splaying bellies on the floor as we played spit.
He was quiet. I remember it was a Tuesday because "Who's the Boss" was on
and in my recent self-liberation from several years of television restriction,
I scheduled my life around ABC's evening line-up.
My parents got home and I made Angel hide behind the bureau. Bringing up a
box of Ring Dings for our evening meal. Leaving a pillow, blanket, and enough
room to turn in his sleep, I climbed in my bed resigned to retire with
pre-recorded laughter shadowing the room from a 12" black and white screen.
But beneath syncopated chuckles I heard whimpers. Rushing to the bureau I found
Angel crying, refusing to let me console him. Demanding I didn't touch him-that
I didn't love him-that no-one did.
"How do you put some-one you love behind a dresser," he said.
The metaphor would take ten years to decipher. Though prematurely making
sense of it at the time, not fearing my father's heavy hand and belt, being
bigger than Angel, I wrapped my arms around his flailing body, laying him to
rest on my bed. Chest touching chest, his anger subsided. We decided to plan
As sleep took him from me I felt blood surging between fingers and legs.
Jumping up I curled up in the big furry chair at the foot of my bed, ashamed
of the erection I concealed when he questioned my abrupt departure.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
"Nothing," I replied. "Just planning."
I watched him sleep. Waking him when sun burning through the window wasn't
enough to stir consciousness. My parents already left for work.
So the plan was, we'd go back to school to tell Victoria and she could come
too if she wanted. Only, thing is, one of Ms. Valdez's students saw us from the
school bus and told her. She had ample time to prepare for our arrival.

They caught us in the schoolyard
The Principal,
Ms. Valdez waiting
taking him kicking
buck teeth ripping clenched hands that stopped us
from breaking loose
arms locked for one last pact
to stay together
if only in the mind.

11 years past and I have moved back to my childhood home. A hand-drawn portrait with
these words sit on an alter to Shango template poems I never wrote or finished.
Candles cast shadows on his image, some nights

When I think about the Angel I've become
the angels I've replaced him with
or what if we would have run in the other direction
Black wings fleshing out metaphors
wondering what happens when I finally figure it out.
Why I can't seem to love like that again
Why I believe I can
And eternal

is a flame on liquid wax
A CD scratched
on an angle of song
Waiting for the wick to burn

We all want to be towering infernos
Pray flame catches something before we die
He is still flickering in my eyes
Am burning on air

(c) 2000, peter of the earth


Anonymous said...

THank you so much. My early memories of Peter are connected to the early days in the bar. The two of you looking so much like versions of yourselves. Each needing a piece of the other to move on.
He was beautiful, yeah? Lovely. Just when I think I have a hold on all of this. I can feel him preparing to return in odd ways. I know all of this life and death and logical but despite all that. Despite the wind that carries him now. I just want him back. I just want Peter dancing in front of me.
THank you for posting that poem. I can't find any but it's definitely the one I wanted to hear.

Guy, I love you crazy. Please know this. I'll see you soon.


Anonymous said...

Beautiful, Guy. A fitting eulogy for a beloved friend.

Thank you.