John Farris, Bard of the Block

I search for truth in the disarray of newspapers, I will find unadorned beauty in the abandoned webs of spiders, grace in the irregular geometry of sheetrock, the march of mounds of ragged clothes that rise like foothills along the sagging couch, slowly

                from Aesthete by John Farris

Crossing Tillary Street against the light on April 29, the day of the memorial service for John Farris, my foot catches in a crack, the bones twist out, my ankle cracks, the devil wins at craps. I have a sudden vision of John last time I saw him about a year ago. There he was, limping down Third Street in a rare foray out from his rooms at Bullet Space. He was leaning on a cane, going slow, holding his head high and grinning at me,  John Farris, bard of the block, the neighborhood, the great beyond and then some.           

John was no easy personality. He was often cantankerous, often funny, a jokester who could resurrect the lost city of Atlantis in a poem. He could be sharp and cut you down with a few choice words and then in the next sentence want to borrow ten dollars. Other times, if he sensed you were feeling blue, he would coax you out of it. Once you met him, you would never forget him.

No way I was going to miss his memorial. When I get home, I ice my foot down 3 advils and the last of the vodka. I take the A train into Manhattan to Washington Square stop and walk the few blocks to Judson Church where the event was being held in the basement room.

A buzz of conversation greeted me as I descended the stairs. The space was about half full. A table with wine and food was in the back. I saw Mitch towards the front, his video camera already set up, Dorothy was sitting next to him wearing one of her phantasmagorical hats. There were my Long Shot buddies, Danny Shot and Nancy Mercado in the third row.  Seated behind them were Ron Kolm, Duke of the Unbearables, and next to him the fine poet, Francine Witte. I say hello and take the empty seat next to Ron.  

From where I’m sitting, I have a clear view of the mike set up for the speakers. There is Steve Cannon in the first row, Steve, Oversoul of the occasion, the one who put it all together. Steve, super intelligent and gracious. He might tease you, but like a little boy who is a slingshot ace, when he takes aim, he always hits the truth. 

    The first speakers were members of John’s family, two of his wives, stunning, brilliant women. I didn’t even know he had been married. I found out he married four times and fathered six daughters.  John’s grandson, Richard Dye played a trumpet solo that echoed in the skies. Andrew Castrucci, founder of Bullet Space, the squat where John spent his last years, talked about their friendship. Other friends told stories of his pranks, his generosity, how he helped beginning writers.  Thirty years ago I was new on the scene, timid and terrified about reading my fledgling poems in public. John came up to me after one of those Monday Night Open Readings St. Marks Church used to host. He invited me to read at Neither/Nor. It was my first break. 

  As the speakers went to the mike one by one, speaking of John the Prophet,  John the Scoundrel, John the Mentor, the room filled up so it soon seemed to be bursting along the edges. There was not a vacant seat. There was standing room only in the back, out the door and up the steps. Looking behind me, I thought I saw Pedro Pietri on the highest stair but when I blinked, he was gone. 

I saw many familiar faces, faces I hadn’t seen for years. I saw smiles, tears and inspiration. Resurrected by John’s presence because he was there, in the air we were breathing. As Steve Cannon said, and I hope I am not misquoting him, John did not leave, he went inside. We there were all part of a community, a community I had too often forgotten. The Loisida community is a World community of shared consciousness, memory and experience, a community as ebullient as one of John’s poems:

Even in the rain

the restaurant still burns, smoke

meets the morning sky.

            Afterwards, moving through the crowd, I stopped many times for a greeting, an embrace, an invitation to meet again soon. We were so glad to see each other. On the long walk from the subway at High Street to my home on Old Fulton Street, my foot didn’t hurt, didn’t hurt at all.