I see Riley downstairs in the Arthur office while I typed the first literary section he let me do. I’m working on the IBM Selectric – top of the line stuff in those days: New Technology: snapsnapsnapsnapsnap like a machine gun. He called up, “Hey, Spitfire! It’s poetry, enjoy it!” Riley finding my copy of Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet open at an especially passionate and romantic passage about why the poet writes, and leaving me a note beside it – “Well, That’s Bizarre! You write poems to give pleasure to your friends and pain to your enemies.” Riley on stage giving pleasure to his friends with his raggedy-Andy hair and wide eyed yet experienced look that knew the world but could still be amazed by it. What was it this time? “say yuv found this chikn wing in th street,” Riley tipping back like Chaplin, “yur shoin off fr yr frends//walkin fancy, swing it like a cane” – a chicken wing! I bet right now Riley is entertaining the gods of poetry; they’re asking him, “Do that one again, the one about the chicken wing – Everyone loves them, but do you know how long since we created them it took for someone to find the poetry there?” Riley in Peter Robinson College’s infamous pub-and-smoke house, giving pain to his enemies who heckled so much I thought the Hangman Poetry Series was done for, Riley jumping up on the table screaming, You think this is just for fun? This … .Is… MY… LIFE!” shouting down an entire unruly bar. Riley sitting me down and talking about where I was and where I might fit into the group of poets he had around him, brilliant poets who gave me the hard-to-bear gift of being better than I was. Riley said, when I finally had the nerve to ask “Mr. Wher” where I fit, replied, “These are young and clumsy, but you belong.” Riley gave me the gift of speaking the truth with love. He was one of those people who could open your world for you if you listened. Last time we talked, I told him that he had helped make a path for me, and for that I have always been thankful. He gave me that look. And whenever I say farewell, he gave me the image for that, too: standn alon in the street wavn gudby with th chikn wing” Goodbye Riley. You did so much good here.

Richard Harrison
December 1, 2006
© 2014

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