-- for Malcolm Lathon Jernigan, 1937-2021
He was once my best
friend (speaking in my own
voice now -- the hardest thing).
After college we spent years
ignoring one another, through
marriages and children
jobs, and moves around
the country, until
I happened upon a daughter
of his online. He confined
to a bed in a nursing home
but I should call him, he
could still talk.
When we did we hemmed and hawed
as old men do, trying to find
some door to memory we could
enter together, the recording
we made after freshman year
ostensibly for family, but we
kept our own copies; we rented
a studio and a couple of hours
of technician time at KLIF downtown,
he surprised a rock station had a decent piano,
I've lost that recording now and never had
a chance to ask if he still had his.
We found in the present we had series
of strokes in common, his had put him
in assisted living, I could still walk
and contemplate travel. We planned
a visit, I would come to see him
on my next trip north. That never
happened; covid happened instead.
I learned from that same daughter
who had brought us together again
that he left us just yesterday.
I'll not set down now all I recall
of him, only things that signify.
I chiefly remember music, first thing
we had in common, he played off and on
for my lessons freshman year and after and added
to my already great enthusiasm for stereo --
addition that started with a particular
recording of Schubert songs -- I've thought of him
always over the years when I've played recordings
we enjoyed together; he was generous to a fault
and not just with the music he shared
with me or time it took to listen.
He often insisted on paying for things
when we could just as easily
have shared the cost.
He came from wealth, central Texas
livestock wealth to be precise, his father
owned the Mills County auction barn.
I saw my first Charolais cattle at his family
ranch near Goldthwaite, met his grandparents
often. I recall them at their limestone house
once, seasoning a ham together they would
afterwards smoke. I remember their cowhide
covered furniture and the Navajo rugs
on their flagstone kitchen floor. His mother
had been ambitious for him, for years driving
him to Dallas for piano lessons with Paul
van Katwijk, sending him on his first
trip abroad to Salzburg for the Mozarteum
summer academy year before we met.
Which we did in German class, I think,
important in that we evolved together
almost our own language with expressions
like possibeal; I don't remember others
but recall we found jawohl important
among our shared pidgin locutions. With that
I mark my Anthropocene to end this year of
loss, naming them over as in prayer: Bryan, Alis,
Keith, Carol, Katherine, Ida, Robert, and now Lathon
among friends absent, all significant. May they walk
among fields of asphodels, in the willow meads
of Tasarinan may we meet again in the spring.