Saturday night: A wedding reception was taking place in the back of The Winter Sun building, the same building that houses The Café Del Sol, where our Spoken Word Open Mic’ was to be held. There was a belly dancing performance across the street at the Black Water Loft, and The Jacksonville Center nearby was hosting an art opening of photography. Cars lined the length of downtown, and a spirited sense of activity filled the air.
Some came to the Open Mic’ specifically for the tribute to Elliot, the poet and member of my Writers’ Circle who had passed away just days before. Others came to read their own material, and all through the evening people trickled in from the neighboring events.
The first set, which was hosted by the Writers’ Circle and dedicated solely to Elliot, was opened by Mars, an 8 year old boy singing a song from the movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou,” “Going Down to the River to Pray.” He happened to be in the café with his mother and friend playing chess when the writers began to arrive. After we heard his hauntingly sweet voice singing impromptu into the mic, we signed him up, and he was happy to oblige.
There was a gallery of original drawings of Elliot spread out near the microphone and the chair where the readers would sit. Apparently, Elliot, burly, bearded and slightly hunched over, had posed for The Floyd Figures Art Group not long before he died. In one prominent drawing done by artist, Rick Cooley, Elliot was dressed in King’s garb with his cane looking more like a commanding staff than an aid to his disability. “Poet King” was etched below the drawing.
Sally, the owner of Café Del Sol, MC’d the evening’s entertainment, something Elliot himself usually did. She called me up first, and I read some prose pieces about playing scrabble with Elliot, which I was hoping would reveal the lighter side of the often bristly man. When the crowd broke out in laughter, after I shared a short interview I had done with him, written on the back of an envelope, I felt that my efforts paid off. “And who will play you in the movie, Elliot?” I asked. Without missing a beat, he answered, “Bette Midler!”
After closing with a newly written poem for Elliot, I handed the mic over to Mara, who read a humorously touching piece written by Kathleen, a Writers’ Circle member who was unable to attend. Kathleen’s piece, based on a conversation with Elliot, was set at a Contra Dance, something that she and Elliot shared a passion for. Mara and Rima then read a selection of Elliot’s poems. It was probably the first time many in the audience had heard his poetry, and it was amazing how good it sounded and how well it held up coming through voices other than the author’s.
It was hard to change gears, but we did. Elliot would have loved the fact that we had several new readers from neighboring towns. In the second set, we heard a lovely prose piece about a wedding in Spain, and poems about living like Henry Miller and not wanting to be a wife. One guy took the microphone over to the computer station and read his poetry off his website. A few people sang songs.
Doug and Fred, Writers’ Circle members who were attending the wedding reception in another part of the building, both made brief appearances, looking quite dapper in their suits. At one point, Jayn (another WC member) and I huddled together on the comfy couch. We fell into each other, close enough for me to notice the tears in her eyes when Elliot’s poem about his painful childhood was being read.
It was well after 10 when Sally bid us all goodnight, and the quiet of the room erupted into chatter. People were hugging, talking about Elliot, and making plans for December’s Open Mic. I grabbed my coat and the several cartons of farm eggs that had been delivered by my egg man sometime during the night. The friend I walked out with had just grabbed up the two hand rolled cigarettes that we discovered had been anonymously placed on the makeshift coffee table altar, next to mementos and photographs of Elliot. And didn’t they smell suspiciously like a certain outlawed herb?
“Well, this is Floyd, after all,” I laughed and said to her.
See Ya Later, Kiddo
~ For Elliot September 11, 1943 – November 17, 2005
Lover of women
4 on the enneagram
and e. e. cummings
Walked with a cane
Smelling of aftershave
Sometimes wore a purple beret
and a daisy behind his good ear
Frequently called me on the phone
“Is that all the time you have for me?”
he asked on a bad day
On a good day he’d say
“Okay…see ya later, Kiddo”
Post Note: A contra dance memorial for Elliot is planned for Saturday, December 10, 6 - 11 p.m. at Winter Sun in Floyd, and a memorial fund for a poetry prize is being established in his name. Contact: Floyd Writers' Circle, c/o P.O. Box 81, Floyd, VA.