“Eulogy (for Jerry Gafio Watts)” by Wally Swist

My first memory of you has to be

that of your hands combing through

the sale books on the cart in front

of the store one autumn afternoon

 

in 1975, your brown leather brief-

case, with a gold metal latch, your

ce que vous êtes connu par. That

was your first year in New Haven,

 

having just graduated from Harvard,

and you wearing the poor Ph.D.

student persona as well as you did

that Walt Frazier mustache; although

 

you never grew an Afro, your hair

was always well groomed, like that

of Malcolm or Stokley Carmichael.

Too poor to buy books, you read

 

standing up, and if you didn’t finish

you would come back the next day

and pick up where you had left off.

However outspoken you might have

 

been, you deflected praise for

the street people you would put up

in your small apartment on sub-

zero nights. Your heart always

 

matching the largesse of your good

Samaritan acts, including the time

I was broken into when I was living

over on the Hill, and you insisted on

 

accompanying me when I returned

to gather my things. When we

managed the bookstore on Saturday

nights, your students would sit on

 

the floor below the raised counter,

where you would hold court, lecture

them about American studies and

W.E.B. DuBois. Two decades later,

 

when we found ourselves both on

another college campus in Hartford,

you included me in the dedication

to your magnum opus, Amiri Baraka :

 

The Politics of the Black Intellectual,

where you honored our collegiality.

When I found out about your death

last November, on your birthday this

 

May, I comprehended the synchronicity

to be all about your thinking it was

about time that I should finally know.

How could we realize there might be

 

forty years ahead of us when we first

met, as you were perusing the titles on

that cart of books I had wheeled out

on the street, knowing as I do now that

 

I’ll never not stop perceiving your sharp

inflection when I recall hearing

you say, Brothah, how are you doin’,

Brothah, while being aware that we

 

actually were kinsman of the heart,

and how if we were informed that we

might have had four decades to read

and write we would have smiled and

 

thought ourselves fortunate, but how

those years have elapsed so quickly

that I would have wanted to share with

you how I believe we just might have

 

discovered something valuable about

our experience in how the evanescent

is a necessary component in

the divine creation of what is éternité.

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