Thanksgiving [for P.H. Liotta]


Suddenly awake, writing in the dark, an hour
Before dawn this Thanksgiving.
The air outside as brittle as the century-old window
Above my bed. Out there light has receded into the stars
Like a dream catapulted away by waking
To a place you will never reach again
Though you were there, so far away,
Just moments ago, and were sure you awoke
Yourself to write down something about it
As quickly as possible, which is why you are
Writing in the dark, suddenly wide awake
And with a mind as blank as a black window.

Outside, stars have settled in the empty branches
Across the street. Pausing on their migration
To someplace warmer. A handful of others glow
On the ground, and I could be led to believe
They are really the brightly burning spirits
Of this world instead of street lights.

Up high, at the top of the window
The brightest, most distant ones sit.
Long dead, probably. Living in the moment’s
At its most relative when the moment’s brightest
Nick in the blackness is millions of years extinguished.
Living in the moment, I understand, can be
Living in the light of a source long gone,
In the words of a life ended in fire.
It is more than not forgetting; This light from the past,
your voice, these words—I will take it, I will demand it.

Graveyard_PHLNOTE: It was about this time last year that I found out that an old friend of mine from college, Peter Liotta, had died in a car accident a year earlier. I knew Peter way back over two decades ago, when I was a senior at Cornell and he was an older grad student–already married and in his mid- or late-twenties–in the MFA program. I had printed a pamphlet of one of Peter’s poems, and we kept in touch for a few years as I went into bookselling and he published the wonderful Learning to Fly, as well as a book of poems and a novel. Picking up those books, and a newer title called The Graveyard of Fallen Monuments from 2007, I could discern Peter’s distinctive old-soul voice as clear as a bell. For awhile that voice remained with me in a particularly strong way, and I awoke in the dark of a Thanksgiving morning thinking on these things, and the result was this poem. //JSS

3 thoughts on “Thanksgiving [for P.H. Liotta]

  1. Sami Besalel

    Jeff, I was thinking of the incredible resurgence of the Peregrine Falcons everywhere in Northern Virginia, as I watched one swoop, impossibly elegantly, from brush to a tree on the lee side of Route 66.

    I thought of Peter and his book, “Learning to Fly,” as I often do when I see one of these preternaturally graceful denizens of the sky. Like you, I was his classmate at Cornell and was luck enough to see his story in its first drafts, installment by installment, in our creative writing class.

    When I got home, I thought I would reach out after 30 years, and celebrate with him by email the unlikely survival of this species whose early attempts at saving he chronicled.

    I searched social media, and not finding him, I dug further and found your poem, Thanksgiving. I’m so sad to see that Peter’s wit, quiet strength, and persistence are no longer gracing this plane of reality. I was moved by your poem, and salute your solute to a good man.

    1. Jeff Schwaner Post author

      Sami, old friend! Strangely enough I just showed this poem to someone two days ago. Where the heck are you and what are you up to? I remember staying at your place in Brooklyn (it was Brooklyn, right??) for a few days in the summer of ’88. The immensity of your comic book collection left a permanent impression on me. Tell me you’re still writing, sir. And what else you’re up to.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s