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 (firstname.lastname@example.org).