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 (


Jason said...

I never personally knew Graham, but I do have a clear memory of him. I remember when Robbie Fulks would come and play at Friends & Co. I believe he would stay at Graham's house. Nobody at those shows seemed to have a better time than Graham did. I have a few recordings of Robbie playing these shows, and I can distinctly hear, and see in my mind, Graham singing, shouting, and hollering along with Robbie.

Daiva Markelis said...

Thanks, John. What a wonderful post. And featuring a poem of Graham's is the most fitting tribute.

Brian Shields said...

I got the chance to get to know Graham briefly more than a decade ago but he had a unique voice and great things to say with it. He will be missed.

Anonymous said...

Yes, thanks John. I've known Graham since high school in Belleville. I ran into him at Midway airport in Chicago 21 years ago next month. We learned we only lived a few blocks apart and spent the next several years creating some wonderful, wild memories. Our friend Ken broke the news to me a few hours ago. Despite the pain I'm feeling, all the memories I have of Graham are shining through -I will treasure them always. Sondra

Deb Valentino said...

Hi, John,

Wow, you're timely. Faster than the TC/JG or the DEN. After hours of grading, I still can't get Graham off my mind. I had one of those inspiring talks with him outside Coleman Hall just days ago, and it was odd how I knew as we parted it was one of those meetings that lingers like the space of years we were revisiting. You're so right about the shrug. Graham's shrugs felt like big old bear hugs. He was always so generous with both his shrugs and his laughter. Thanks for your tribute.

Anonymous said...

graham was always a deep thinker.. i knew him well when he was a teenager...he was a very fun and kind person period...he was a huge music lover of all types...thats something we shared. although we shared several christmas dinners early in our lives we drifted apart after high school. i regrete that....sorry i did'nt get to say goodbye ol in peace. your cus...

Anonymous said...

I met Graham through my big brother. He was just the nicest, most accepting person. We rocked with Robbie a few times together. What good times!! I hadn't seen Graham in a few years, but I heard his name often, from my brother & cousin. I'm sorry I won't get to see him again. Thank you for posting this blog. My thoughts are with Graham's friends & family.

Robert G. Jones said...

I met Graham in 1978, where we took typing class together in high school. We wer instant friends. We spent our formative years together, debating the existence of God and philosophy in my basement in Belleville. He was my brother. He was my friend. We may have lived in different cities, but we were never far apart. I could go on forever, because I have so many memories of such a great & inspiring teacher. As my 7 year old daughter Abbey (who Graham had named 'cricket')tried to comfort me as I was in the fetal position crying on the floor Tuesday night, she said, "Daddy...Graham will always be in our hearts...." And Cricket is right, he will always be in our heart. None of you can deny he had the innate ability to bond with anyone, at anytime, and bring a smile to your face. I still hear his constant laughter, I still see his always smiling face. I saw him last at our annual trip about a month ago, and we had such a great time together. Upon parting, as always, he gave me a big bear hug, and said one final time, "I love you bro." Graham, I love you too....

Anonymous said...

It's been too long since I've seen Graham...likely @ John's wedding. I have rich memories of being in my VW Rabbit (speeding in the pre-dawn on a wild road, whether urban or rural) with Graham radiating the wisdom of an alpha grizzly, chortling bursts of wild humor, helping bring all of us in the vehicle to some point where we would all end exhausted, snickering, enlightened, and amazingly safe. May some of your spirit find its place in the wherever-ahead, and may some of your spirit always carry forward with those of us back-here. Fondly, Tiny.

Urkat said...

Graham, wherever you are, wherever it is that we go when we pass out of this life, please look down at all these well-wishers and people who cherish the memories you left behind, and thank God for us for your incomparable soul and for sending you into their lives. Matt F.

Jim Caldwell said...

Thanks, John, for such a timely board to post these thoughts. 1982...Structures of English with Professor Haught...from that time Graham has been my friend. We shared a lot of interests, but then who didn't with Graham? Graham was interesting. From Bunuel to Lost, from Bob Gibson to Homer Simpson, from the Watchmen to Harry Smith. What a life.

Anonymous said...

Hi, John. Lisa Childress here. I knew Graham for most of the time he was at EIU. He was one of the kindest and sweetest big old teddy bears I ever knew. And what a sharp mind and keen wit.

We have all lost something with his death. My sorrow for his family's loss, Kit and his mother, as well as all his friends, who treasured him.

Hope he is in a good place now. Peace to him.

Melanie L. said...

I knew Graham at the U of A, and boy, did he always know how to have a wonderful time. He and his compadres made grad school life some magical years. I am crushed and saddened to hear only today that Graham has gone. Somehow I thought we might all meet up at George's again for a crazy night on the town. I know his friends and family must miss him so... the world is a lesser place without him.

clawmaster said...

I went down to Chuck Town Saturday night to attend Graham Jam. It was a celebration of Graham's life at the top of Roc's. Saw people I haven't seen in several years.

Bug, fat, hairy Graham was a great guy. I met him for the first time in 1984. If there's one thing Graham's death has taught me, it is don't go so long between visiting old friends. You never know when your time or their time may be finished.


John Guzlowski said...

Good advice, JCZ.

Remember your friends.

Don't let too many years go by between helloes.

Anonymous said...

graham's forever probably has very little to do with endless time

graham somehow could make a memory with the simplest of props...a pack of cigarettes and the bar in front of you.

life would just come out of the guy and if you had it in you too, that shared life would be marked as "good" for all of time.

chas schinzer