In other words, there’s too much going and gone bad in the daily world for me to feel capable of scratching the surface, on any given Sunday. So I tend to write about other things, or I find myself telling what I have to say slant.
I just learned that a writer I love died two days ago. His writing vibrated with music: His words engaged in arpeggio runs bracketed throughout by huge chords, creating an overarching resonance of which only a virtuoso could be capable. Kevin “Mack” or “Mo” McIlvoy ostensibly wrote fiction–short stories and novels–but he was more of a poet than many who use that title as their chief descriptor.
During one of my low-residency MFA program’s annual summer retreats, I heard Mack read for the first time, and from the first word he spoke to the last, I was euphoric: There was a time when every reading, open mic, and slam I attended, whether or not I sang or read or performed my poetry, that I regarded these spaces as Church. Although I don’t get around much anymore, I still cherish that feeling, often imparted to me by others, that we were creating a sacred space together, audience and artists together, in common cause, that a shining point in space-time had been forever marked by all of us. Mack understood this, I think. He never failed to bring his listeners–and his readers–back to the vibrancy of a life well-attended. I loved him for that.
I wish I’d followed my heart. After graduation, I approached Mack and told him I wanted to work with him. I had a feeling he could teach me something powerful, maybe help me to bring it into my writing. I comfort myself some with the knowledge that his stories and many conversations are here for me. Kevin McIlvoy was deeply loved by many of us, and no one can replace him.
excerpt from 57 Octaves below Middle C:
At dusk, as always, Bender sang to our congregation, silver
hair greasing her blouse, tin on the toes of her boots.
When we were grade-school children, she and I liked duct
tape. We liked it like you could never believe. Our favorite
thing to steal from the corner store was that silver coil. The
way it ripped across, how it stretched over. It gripped!
She stood on the white twenty-gallon empty drum, her boot
heels burning the plastic, her tempo uneven. We were a
communion of over a dozen church-bums who loved her
and were frightened by her hawk-at- the-tree- crown and
hawk-on- the-glide shoulders and head, her wings at her
sides, her hands palms out, fingers curled up.
Bender and I once duct-taped a picture of our father, who
was dying in the Simic State Penitentiary hospital, to a globe
sent by our Aunt Horror. On the globe our father clung to
the deep South. He spun fast without flying off. When the
globe slowed down, his head did a half-turn on his neck,
then a turn back by half that. We tore the thing apart, duct-
taped the entire planet, kicked it anywhere we wanted.
Dented part of Asia, most of Antarctica. Had to re-tape.