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Elegy for the Gator
Calvin H. “Rusty”Gates Jr. 1955-2009
[Portage, Winter Solstace, 2009]

Long ago a decision made
As my comrades fell
Along the way
I’d shed words not tears when good men die
Take on all the pain but never cry
Instead to do my best to try
To emulate Shakespeare
Praising what is lost making remembrance dear
And thus the day comes once again,
Here and now I sit to write at dawn, stanching tears.

Death, this magic rune in our code of genes,
This privilege we call living brings
Us eternal debt of now for here, then there,
Where unlike life we must go alone
To that place our red brothers call the Road of Souls,
The route to which can’t be marked with GPS
Each map to get there decided by god
And held within us, to be opened only
At that instant it is finally needed
This journey to a place, which bears different names.

It is said among followers of Buddha
The universe contains multiple heavens
Where those who accumulate good karma
Are to be reborn in a heaven, not named,
This fact of our passing non-negotiable,
Some of us leaving like small ripples that fade,
Others like slow undulating soft waves,
And those rarest of us, quietly relentless,
still pounding shores long after they are gone,
Their souls touching us, and what we love from beyond the grave.

For those of us who share un-jealous love of a river,
We know the heaven wherein Rusty Gates dwells:
It is a river of sand, meandering, pure and icy cold,
Teeming with the life of its history,
Of moments and ages here and gone,
And all the people who waded through.
To sit by the water’s edge at nightfall,
nighthawks burring, coyotes barking,
Droves of hex roaring overhead
Like legions of bar-bound bikers.

Listen, we whisper, small fish are rising upstream
Daring to test the first of the spinners,
Harbingers of the rain of bugs soon to follow,
The musk of rich black earth redolent,
Fumes of bug dope rising from our flesh and lucky shirts,
The promise of the music of our life’s reel at work
We sit or stand in prayer,
“Please god, let it happen and don’t let me mess this up.”
Life rolling all around us, and within us
Merged into the one thing: Moment of Rising Magic.

I would slide into the shop unannounced,
Catch a nod, a wink, and a grin for greeting.
When others moved away, he would slide
A map onto the glass and tap a finger surreptitiously
Mumble, “Hatchers at eight, spinners at ten. Don’t be in a hurry.
Respect the struggle and relish the fight.”
Talk about words prophetic. If ever a man enjoyed the fight
There he stood by his beloved river, quick to rise
In her defense, unrelenting day and night.
He asked no quarter and gave none. How many of us
Will have such said of us when we are gone and done?

Sometimes god gives us giants with frail bodies and quiet voices;
It’s up to us to see the gift for what it is
And how fleeting… god how fleeting.
With apologies to Will, “The private wound is deepest.
Tis good to be sad and say nothing.”
Why can I hear Rusty’s voice reciting
Shakespeare’s lines? “What is best, that best I wish in thee.”
And there you have it, his own elegy,
Who steppeth forward now to “imitate the action of the tiger,
Stiffen the sinews, disguise fair nature with hard favored rage?”

I hear Rusty. “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.
For those that have shed their blood with me are my brothers
And those not here will think themselves
Accursed, and hold their manhoods cheap while any speaks.
Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste death but once.
To expostulate why day is day, night night, and time is time, were nothing but to waste
night, day and time.”
Rusty Gates is once dead, and wasted nothing in his life.
Our river lives on, oh how it lives, oh my
We can not, must not, allow this precious thing to die.
Today we say goodbye to the body of Rusty Gates.
For his friendship and decades of support I can no other answer make
But thanks, and thanks. Please God, rest his soul and show him the best water.
(Because trust me: He’ll find it anyway.)
His body is gone. His memory and gift to us remain.
What we do with both are matters of our collective fate.

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Copyright 2008 Joseph Heywood. Design by C Marschke.