Thirteen Ways of Remembering Lonnie Black


An untied silk scarf, a loosened GQ ascot, adding just that extra fashionable touch, not so much flamboyant as the cool suave that allowed him grace and ease.


Parking spaces in Hartford are more an invention of the imagination than anything actual; but always artful, no one can parallel park a car better than he can, hairsbreadth of inches to spare.


What gallery reception can triumph without him, with his inimitable conception of each painting gracing the walls, holding his signature glass of white wine, to which he would add a strawberry, with his characteristic urbane flourish.


What is numerous are the innumerable breakfasts sitting in a booth over a blue Formica table at Mo’s Downtown, our conversation always more paramount than all the home fries he wound up taking home.


What venue in Hartford is not now forever colder by his no longer crossing the threshold to enliven its ambiance with his presence; he could have been the mayor, having been enabled to govern with just a nod, a smile.


Those were the times, the peerless early summer evenings in the Garden, whose idea he was one of the first to champion; how one would turn around, suddenly, his mustache
brushing your upper lip, as he lightly kissed you


He was his own version of Mr. Rogers in a classroom of children, he was even referred to as The Poetry Man; seed bags of words slung over each shoulder, what he planted took root, burgeoning in young minds.


Always in attendance of a friend in need, willing to listen, offering balm by the salve of a receptive ear, open heart, he may have aspired to offering guidance, but he always endowed dignity to healing, to going on.


Advocate extraordinaire, writers he knew may have doubted in their new work, but his voice quietly beguiled them, nearly in an assuaging whisper, more blithe than brazen, can you not hear him say, Just read your poems.


We can only recollect and wonder if you may have ever walked with him in Elizabeth Park, among the trellises of roses, with him stepping lightly between rows, why each rose clamored to be the one he may have chosen for his buttonhole.


In the gray dawn light of empty Hartford streets, there appears two wisps drifting silently over the lawns and the concrete. Ghosts now, Wallace Stevens and Lonnie Black, precipitating the blackbirds, one by one, in each tree into flight.


Without a book of his own but beloved by many, he releases his poems for all of us to see— he helped this person in trouble, comforted another in a time of need, all of his good deeds now avid and vivid, like the blackbirds visible all morning.


We remember him for many things, well beyond these, but if you think of him and desire his companionship again, just walk out into the sunlight; he’ll be there in the warmth on your back, and don’t be surprised if blackbirds begin to flock round what is an angelic presence hovering in air.

Wally Swist’s books include Huang Po and the Dimensions of Love (Southern Illinois University Press, 2012); The Daodejing: A New Interpretation, with David Breeden and Steven Schroeder (Lamar University Literary Press, 2015); and Invocation (Lamar University Literary Press, 2015). His forthcoming books are The Windbreak Pine (Snapshot Press, 2016), The View of the River (Kelsay Books, 2017), and Candling the Eggs (Shanti Arts, LLC, 2017).