A Poem for Elee

It is two weeks since the death from cancer of Elee Kirk — who for so long has been my closest companion, wisest advisor and greatest friend. And so I find myself sitting here, watching the wheeling seagulls over the rooftops, looking up into the blue of the late summer sky, and thinking how much Elee loved evenings such as this one. And I find myself thinking how — had circumstances been different, were it not for some copyist’s error at the level of Elee’s cells — we might still both be here, idling and chatting, talking through our various projects and plans, wondering what to cook for dinner, and thinking about whether we should later head out for a walk in the meadows to catch the slanting evening sunlight.

I do not know really what to write about Elee’s death. What do you write about something like this? So many friends have confessed to me, ‘I don’t know what to say.’ And I have had to respond by saying that neither do I. In the face of all this sadness and grief, words are difficult to summon. They don’t seem to do enough. But still it is necessary to speak. As Levinas knew, although the said is always inadequate, the saying is always necessary. So I am grateful for all those words of support and comfort from friends and family and strangers. And also, despite Levinas, I can’t help wondering whether said may be more potent, less inadequate, than it can sometimes seem.

But in the absence of managing to write anything particularly coherent here and now, I’m going to end this here with a translation I did this morning of a poem by the poet Zhang Rong (444 –497). And then I’m going to head out into the meadows, and catch the slanting evening sunlight.


Farewell Poem by Zhang Rong
(trans. W. Buckingham)

White clouds
dispersed over the hills;
clear breezes
stilled under the pines.

If you wish to know
the sorrow of parting —
alone on the terrace,
gaze at the bright moon.

— 張融


Image: photo of Elee taken in Anren, China on Christmas Day 2015.

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