Joel is not there

photo by Brent Nicastro

Email from Nate Beyer:


Thank you for your posting about Joel Gersmann. I was in a few of Joel's plays in the mid-nineties, and got to know him outside of the theater as well. He was an incredible person�difficult at times, yes, but so what? He was always kind to me, especially at times when I needed it most. In his own way (phone calls, mainly), he reached out to me, even though, at the time, I was not very capable of returning his efforts, mainly due to my own lack of maturity.

I've attached a poem I wrote while in Madison for Joel's funeral (I now live in Boston). Just thought I�d share it with you.

"Looking for Joel"

Out the window, on the way

To see my grandmother, who must

Now be fed like a child again,

Possessed by blank stares and staccato

Bursts of words,

I see purple flowers by the road,

Blooming weeds or lavender,

I don�t know (Joel would).

In my mind, they are

Lavender, blooming as life�s

Delicate insult to death, as if

To say "Maybe I only get

A month, but fuck you,

I�m going to bloom, baby, bloom."


Later, I think, there must be some essence of him left,

Some corner on which Joel hangs,

Just out of reach. My God,

It wasn't so long ago that he walked

These streets, the man of multiple

Bags, Sir Longscarf, Father Graybeard,

Squinting, or with that deep look,

Stopping, eyes open penetrating as soft

Knives, seeing, seeing.

He did not lack for sight.


I get out and try to find him, imagine him

Back, even as I know how absurd this

Would seem to him (I hear "ah, Nate, I�m dead"

In my mind, Joel�s voice, there, now).


Is he there, in the State Street porn shop?

No, probably not. He once told me

The problem with pornography is that

It is sex drained from all the messiness

Of reality�smelless, wordless, plucked

And shaved and surgically removed and

Enlarged. Makes you expect unreality

Of the real. Then, in a poem from the seventies,

Joel writes about rushing to a porn store

In frantic searching. Maybe this silly

Infantile desire to stumble across a sign of

The departed is not so far removed from Joel's

Sense. What, even, do I want to find?

A hat? A scarf strung across the sidewalk?

A magic carpet, a time machine? But even this last

Moment, this last breath, is gone.


The old man on the corner, the angle

Of his back�

It�s Him!

Who�s the old dude in the café window?


He has risen!

A man goes by:

"Everybody�s yakin about how wonderful it is."

Definitely Him!

Jewsus of Madison has Risen!

A guy honks a couple of notes on a harmonica

That becomes a song.



And yet I�m trapped in my own puerility

(Tits ahoy, State Street awash in breasts,

A forest, an ocean, a mountain range

Of summertime titties restrained by bare threads!

Think of the nipples�one for every square

Inch of skin�a baby�s dream. This

Baby�s dream. Joel would understand,

Even as he makes retching sounds and leans

Over as if to vomit, spitting up like

A baby).


I go into stores, but Joel is not there�

Or is he, underneath the smell of

Synthetic fabric, what�s that? Sweat?

The street, dust and metal? Someone

Has tried on this shirt on the rack.

It�s Him! He has entered this store, leaving only


THIS SHIRT," I scream

In my imagination. In reality, I leave the store,

Mindful of my place,

And his.


Land�s End. Coffee Houses. Stylized Bus Stops.

And bullshit, bullshit, bullshit.

What is this, Oslo? Cleaned and polished and ready

For business. In a corner, a woman corkscrewed

Into a wheelchair tolls a bell for the

Salvation Army. Now there�s something Joel

Could get behind, something where the twistedness

Isn�t hidden.

I give a dollar, and poof! It�s gone.


And then, people collapse on me and

The faces become familiar and frightening.

I realize a time machine would be an unrelenting

Horror of teeth and tongue and flesh hardened to

Marble. A bust in the making, a bust.



To Bring Back the Dead

(combine in mason jar)

--1 Drop of saliva stolen from the lips of 2 black lesbians, large, kissing at dawn.

--hair of cat.

--That light! That dusky light, grey glow seen in spring in moments between this world and some other!

--Yellow hearts, pink clovers, and blue diamonds.

--let sit for 5,000 years.


I go back to his grave�is this

Really where it ends?

I let the salsa play on the radio�

Loud, windows open. Joel would like it, I think.

Though isn't this just some sort of strange

Sentimentality? Why do I want to rip open

The coffin and see his face again, though I've

Seen the embalmed before, drained

With an undertakers idea of still life. Ghastly.

Memory is better, where I can still hear

His voice, feel his rough stubble cheek,

Once again, once again, Once more

Into the breech. Once more, bebida,

Vivida, bebida, vivida. Aquí, aquí, mira.

Mira, mira, Oye, Oye,

Pensar, pensar, pensar,

Like the call of the crow circling in the sky.

Why do we make flat lines into circles like eyes? To begin.

To begin again. Once more.

From the top.


--Nate Beyer (7/2/05)

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