Hard rain for Christmas, starting in the afternoon. Within a few hours, the water from my shallow well has a reddish-brown tinge.
The two-year-old sits in the middle of the carpet, dwarfed by the pile of her presents, which she evinces no interest in trying to unwrap on her own. Her parents take turns unwrapping them for her and exclaiming over each on her behalf. Gently they take the previous toy or book from her hands and show her the new one: Look, Elanor, look! To look is to grab. To grab is to become much too deeply engrossed. Doesn’t she know she’s on stage, here?
James Brown has died. What was he to me, that I feel his loss so deeply? White people and black people don’t even have the same thing in mind when they say funk: a blue mood, or the rank smell of sex?
Reading the eulogies, I start thinking of those two years Brown spent in prison, long after he had become a living legend revered by the toughest rappers. What must that have been like for him, and for the other prisoners? How I would love to be the one to write the story! But I can’t, and it’s not just a matter of being white and nerdy. My blue moods couldn’t possibly do it justice.
I’ve written probably all I’m going to write about James Brown already, in this poem — the screenplay for a very brief documentary, in which I do not appear simply because I’m busy doing the filming. Who directed, then? Good old blind Chance. I put a dollar in his cup when we were through.
Usually we go for a walk on Christmas, but the rain kept us all indoors. So instead we watched A Prairie Home Companion, directed by Robert Altman — speaking of those who have recently passed away. I liked the fact that the angel of death — or Dangerous Woman, as the credits describe her — takes out the bad guy near the end, but it changes absolutely nothing. And I cheered the stance of Garrison Keillor’s character, GK, who, while happy to include sentimental songs, remains steadfast against eulogies and memorials. “I don’t like to tell people how to feel,” he says, and “You play every show as if it’s your last.” The movie’s enigmatic ending can only be understood in the light of that sentiment, I think. It’s up to us to retell the stories and make them our own. How fitting that this turned out to be Altman’s own last work.