A Poem from Sten Rudstrom

Dead. Dead. Randy Hostetler is dead. How old was Randy? Young. 30? 32? 29? It doesn’t matter. Randy doesn’t have a body, any body, any more. Randy is gone. Randy’s skinny little body is gone. The only guy I ever knew who was skinnier than I was. He will never suffer from indigestion again. No acupuncturist will ever put needles into his flesh again. Randy will never boil those hideous Chinese herbs again. Randy is dead.

If I believe in reincarnation, Randy will have been reborn within two days. Today is Friday as I am writing this letter. That means Randy will be reincarnated Monday morning, before the start of the business day, 8 a.m. sharp because Randy used FedEx a lot. I believe Randy has received Priority Overnight Delivery.

Randy is dead. That means Randy’s playing his records in heaven. If I believe in Christianity, that means Randy is playing Funkadelic and James Brown at a dance party for angels. It doesn’t matter what I believe in — Muslim, Buddha, Jehovah, Christ, Mecca, Kabbala — Randy has left this burdensome life and I am sad he’s gone. I am sad he’s gone.

I don’t care if he’s moved on, kicked the bucket, gone to better pastures, croaked. I don’t care if he’s in a better place, free of his body, light as a feather. I don’t care if this is what was supposed to happen. I don’t care. Randy’s not here anymore. Randy’s dead.

Randy’s not going to call me up anymore. He’s not going to call me up with some hare-brained idea about touring upstate Vermont. Some idea so crazy — about doing a workshop out in the woods — that I’ll go along with it. Randy’s not going to talk me into any crazy ideas any more. Randy’s not going to tune my piano anymore. Randy’s not going to.

I saw Randy in New York City in August last year. We had just finished our tour of Vermont, Massachusetts and New York. He was going back up to Vermont to be with his parents and see Bread & Puppet Theater Company. The City was stressing him out. It was the ultimate quandary: he loved everything about John Cage but couldn’t stand the city Cage lived in. He tried to talk me into going back up to Vermont with him. I almost went.

Last fall, Randy was fascinated with Japanese poetry forms. It was inevitable. Cage liked it — sooner or later, Randy was going to. I told him everything I knew about haiku, about how each line should be an expansion or contraction of focus, how you should feel a lift or a pull either way, that the 5-7-5 syllable system taught in the US was merely a bad translation. He told me he’d been reading about renga, a competitive form that several poets would write spontaneously; each of them coming up with a three line haiku, or two-line couplet, that bridged the content from the previous line. We pictured the sages, with their cups of tea, releasing a knowing “aaaaah” with the approval of each stanza. We were headed south on Highway 91 to New York City when we came up with this:

Truck swerves into car
near onion bulb painted blue
only truck smells bad
Roadside sycamore is sweet
Earthworm wriggles under bark
When he enters sleep
tree will have lost aroma:
winter taps at roots

The earth is wrapped in stillness,
No orbit shakes royal grace

Suddenly a bird chirps
wind whispers in balsam’s branch
Wake up! It’s Springtime!

One river flows the whole world
Ice, thunderstorm, mist & hail

Leaf caught on wiper
an eighty-mile-per-hour wind
sneezes from my nose

Cool waterfall sweetens air
in toxic cigarette ad
Home of the Whopper!

Randy was up in San Francisco for the most recent John Cage convention. We talked on the phone but we didn’t meet. Now, I know. See people when they’re in town. Even if it’s only for two minutes. See them. Be in their physical presence. You never know when people will go. It could happen to any one of us, in any place, anywhere, at any time… right now.

Randy’s dead. Was there a reason for his dying? Was there an error? Is there a mistake we can find? Was he unhappy? Did he slip and fall? Can we find somebody to blame? Can we blame ourselves? There’s never any reason for death. Death just is.

On Friday I found out Randy was dead. I couldn’t stay in the house. I said I would go out for a walk. Ended up walking for five hours. I went into churches. At St. Charles Borromeo Church, corner of 16th and South Van Ness in San Francisco, a side vestibule dedicated to the Virgin Mary has light bulbs inside the glass votives instead of candles. The traditional staircase of votives has been wired so that you hit a switch to light one up. No candles. No mess. I pushed one of the buttons for Randy. Lit up a blue one. Randy would have liked that.

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