Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Graham Lewis--Forever Came Today

I heard last night that Graham died early yesterday.

I had known Graham for almost 20 years. He was a student of mine at Eastern Illinois University a long time ago. It was a course in Literature and Psychology, and Graham was a student I liked to see in class. He was smart, really smart, and he said things I liked hearing about Freud and Dostoevsky, Jung and Eugene O'Neill. He would spin that Psych theory like a top. Sometimes his life as a student would get in the way of his studies. He was running with Joe Butler for student body president and vice-president, and they were running a pretty wild and unconventional campaign.

Sometimes, Graham would come to class unprepared during the race, but he was always upfront about that. He'd come in and say, "Doc, I'm not going to do you any good today." Then, he would smile and shrug, and you knew that he would get it all together tomorrow or the next day.

Years later, I met him again. He got a job teaching in my department, and he taught there for the rest of his life.

We were both smokers when he first started teaching, and we would meet outside Coleman Hall in all kinds of weather to smoke a cigarette between classes. He was a good person to share a cigarette with. He was always upbeat, always smiling like he did in class long ago when he was a student. You would join him outside with some kind of crazy or sad story about a student's meltdown or failure, and he would smile and shrug, say something reassuring about the student. He was a good person to talk to.

Graham was also a good poet, and I want to post one of his poems here from his book Forever Came Today. The sonnet is from a sequence about a Coles County, Illinois, woman named Marjorie.

Marjorie Walks On Water

She sits talking to the crickets and rain,
the glow of town melting
to the flat black mud of Coles County.
This morning she heard music from the sky,
rolls of thunder teasing her into the fields.
She followed across gulleys and creeks,
each rumble a revelation just out of reach.
Hours later she found herself wet and alone.
When the moon came her breasts ached,
her monthly blood bitter and warm.
She sits rocking, rocking in the darkness,
telling it that always magical story
of how all she ever wanted
was to heal the sick and raise the dead.

You can see more of Graham's poems at the EIU online journal Agora.



Memories of Graham

I received the following note from Jean Toothman, the secretary of the English Dept. at EIU:


I've had several requests to add messages of condolence or memories of Graham Lewis to the brief biography we have for him on the web site. While I lack the programming skills to make that an interactive page, it would be quite simple for us to add your memories or messages to the page.

If you'd like to add a memory or message of condolence to the page, please email it to Ginny (

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Linda and the Contractors

As some of you know, we've been having a professional contractor do some work in our new house in Danville. He's been working on the kitchen and the bathrooms and on the floors upstairs. I've been pretty much trying to stay out of the way. I'm spending a lot of time in our beautiful basement which Linda remodeled and made a fit place to sit and write in. Like Toni Morrison suggests in her novel Sula, "Sometimes, when things are going crazy, all you can do is to just get out of the way."

Linda, however, is in the thick of the work, tracking what's going on with it, and recently, she wrote up a piece about it. Here's her story:

Lillian told me that she read an essay by a woman that compared working with a contractor to having an affair. I know just how she felt, well, sort of anyway. Friday our contractor, Jimmy, was here sweet talking me with promises. We’d sleep in our own bed come Monday. We’d have a toilet and sink right there, finished, to clean up in at any hour of the day or night. The floor would look fabulous, the room would be set back. It would be like a night at the Ritz. Yesterday I started to worry. I got long suffering John to help me put our clothes back in their closets so that Monday morning Jimmy’s crew would be moving furniture only. So we worked and worked and worried some more, but we slept deep in anticipation of this morning’s busy chaos.

This morning came with one worker, a big kid I’d never seen before, and when I asked what he would do first, he answered but I couldn’t figure out what he’d said. Half hour later a short skinny guy who looks a bit like a heroin addict came by, friendly as could be, to do a bit more looking. And right on his heels we get the sanders, here to start their work day.
So I called the contractor’s office to complain that my husband was moving furniture (I am certain they aren’t going to pay John), and where is the crew Jimmy promised me. Many calming words and sweet promises. And then I get a plumber show up at the door. He’s trying to put in a toilet and sink, running up and down the stairs to the basement leaving all the doors open, the cat running every which way, and he’s in one lousy mood since the bathroom is full with furniture, books, clothes, boxes. I ask him if he’s ever had a worse environment, and he says “not lately.” I joke (big mistake) that even is he gets the sink and toilet finished, we won’t be able to get to them and we don’t have a bed up in the bedroom in any case. He grunts, says something I can’t understand, and runs back down the stairs.

John calls me from the front door to say Jimmy’s send someone to check to see if the bedroom is set up for us. I say we took the futon mattress to my study so that we’d salvage somewhere to sleep, but the bathroom is going to be inaccessible since the floors will be wet with polyurethane in any case. He mumbles something about camping, I go upstairs to close the door to the bedroom.
After I come down to gripe at John about it all (he’s holed up in the family room reading emails about his blog), I decide to check the bathroom again.

When I get upstairs I discover everyone is gone, except for the guy with the sanding machine that sounds like a jet engine is revving up in our living room. I run to the front door and discover all the cars and trucks are gone. Here I am waiting. Still no Jimmy. But I do have the check I wrote for his second draw on the work sitting on my desk, and I’ll be damned if I give it to anyone but him, if he ever shows up that is.