In Memoriam: Leon Forrest, 1937-1997

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Callaloo 21.1 (1998) vii-ix One night in Chicago, maybe ten, fifteen years ago, maybe more, not a freezing night with the hawk all up under your clothes beating those icy wings that don't get any icier than they do in Chicago, Bull's town maybe but hawk's lair sure enough, not crazy cold yet but chilly, crisp October overcoat weather, it must have been October because we'd sat for awhile in a bar glancing up every now and then at the World Series on a tiny TV while we knocked back a last few coming-down, going-away drinks after a day and evening performing on stage, doing whatever the sponsor of the event had paid two of us to fly to Chicago and do, read, panel, teach, Leon Forrest, James Alan McPherson and I walking together to the hotel where Leon would drop us and we'd go our separate ways, way after midnight, one or one thirty but bright on the wide streets that keep tall buildings from bumping their shoulders over your head, the sky black up there but the loud buzz and yap and hiss of electricity around you holding off night and I'm slightly high behind the exhaustion of travel and talking to the public and now here I am with Leon and Jim, the public having turned out in decent numbers, a welcoming spirit earlier to see and listen to us so I'm feeling good, full of myself and my craft and my accomplished friends, still jamming, still on our feet while this huge city empties. We'd survived the long day, survived the chores demanded of us, done well in fact, blew away the audience, and here we were, if not [End Page vii] the last souls awake and alive, there sure weren't many like us left out here, you know what I mean, the feeling I'm talking about, dead tired but still up for anything, anything seems possible and the heft and lift of skyscrapers, humming lights and nearly deserted avenues put you on stage again and inside your chest your heart knows you're up to it, whatever, you'll rise to the task again if an occasion presents itself this night, any night and you'll own it, just as you own this night in the strong company of these friends, these fellow writers, these black men. Maybe I'd just told the others what my mom called the great pitcher Joaquin Andujar because she had a hard time pronouncing his name--Walking Underwear--and Leon especially liked the little anecdote that maybe then, maybe earlier I'd shared, riffing on my mother's penetrating intelligence, her way with words I'd always enjoyed and wished I'd inherited more of. Anyway Leon was glowing, the way he did when something tickled him, our people's irrepressible propensity to fabricate language, for instance, weaving comic and tragic so facts fuse with feelings and feelings fuse with facts, that kind of peaceful, puckish glow when the expression on his face would say gone to a quiet, rocking, private space inside himself where he was chuckling, cracking up but he'd say "delighted" by whatever might be tickling him if you asked and delighted would be just the word for that glow. Leon recalling my story about my mom or some other story told or untold, not saying a word, just alight, nobody else speaking either as we tacked three abreast, through the sights and sounds of the city as it closes down as near to sleep as it ever gets. We passed a skinny, dark alley at whose far end I believed I could see the neon splash of my hotel. Look. Let's go this way, thinking if we turned down the alley it would save us walking to the traffic lights at the end of the block and save a half block walk retracing our steps back from the direction we were headed now. I wish I could remember exactly what Leon said because his exact words are what this is all about. His words in...

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