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The anniversary

This is September 4th, 2011.


That means it is three years to the day that Matthew Avery Solomon, father of Jayvon with Hazel and father of Makai with Hakiti, was shot in the head and back at point blank range by two unseen, masked murderers, leaving him dead on the sidewalk. His companion, Noel, lay dying. Their friend, December, was wounded and lived to tell the story.


I knew none of this until the following morning when I received a telephone call from a San Francisco Police Department homicide detective, whose name I don’t recall. I do recall, in the way of such things—like President Kennedy’s assassination—exactly where I was standing when I received the news. On September 5th, 2008 at right around ten o’clock in the morning I was standing beside my old ’85 Volvo wagon which was parked in the driveway of 3021 Sylvan Avenue, in the Laurel District of Oakland, California. I was there working, to make a living, laying white ceramic tile in the upstairs shower for my friend, Adrian Bozzolo. So I was not just making a living. I was making something for a friend, a labor of love, when I received the news and afterward, from that place of dissociation—that place we find ourselves when we receive such news, my cell phone still in my hand, my index finger mindlessly punched in his number, for Adrian was already at work. After me, he was the first to know. Beyond that I have little memory of the day or the other calls I made or whether I worked or not.


And so I grieve.


It’s not the same three years out and yet, it is the same. Matt is gone. His little boys don’t have their father. I will never see his smile, nor have the opportunity to bear witness to his growth. Oh . . . the loss is there in perhaps even more profound ways, even as the shock has lessened, even as the spontaneous welling up of emotion is less frequent—even rare, the grief, the sadness of it all has seemed to grow and in that growth or from that growth comes an ever stronger mandate to live my life as fully as I am able, every second, as the only way to honor this young life, snuffed out, unjustly and too soon, as Mary Oliver says.


Hardly any wonder that death has been on my mind and that I had intended to share Mary’s poem, When Death Comes, in the invitation to our first Wednesday’s gathering that I sent out yesterday. How interesting and how mysterious that I pick up the wrong book and that it fell open—not exactly fell open for it was a new paperback—but when I opened it, I opened it to the very poem that urged me to allow my grief to be my guide to embracing the world.


I share it again.




Here is a story

to break your heart.

Are you willing?

This winter

the loons cam to our harbor

and died, one by one,

of nothing we could see.

A friend told me

of one on the shore

that lifted its head and opened

the elegant beak and cried out

in the long, sweet savoring of its life

which, if you have heard it,

you know is a sacred thing,

and for which, if you have not heard it,

you had better hurry to where

they still sing.

And, believe me, tell no one

just where that is.

The next morning

this loon, speckled

and iridescent and with a plan

to fly home

to some hidden lake,

was dead on the shore.

I tell you this

to break your heart,

by which I mean only

that it break open and never close again

to the rest of the world.



I too have used words in all their magic and power to help myself grieve. I had intended by this third anniversary to have those words gathered into a small book of poems that I call Looking for Matthew. That intention still lives inside me but my original timeline has been altered by circumstance—especially the spinal surgery which was not expected.


 I share with you, then, on this anniversary day several of those poems, as I remember Matt.


Day 17 


On being left behind


There is an isolation in death,

            in being left behind

            in a sea of grief

            and going down,

            unable to breathe the air

            the other’s life had brought,   

            as if you were looking up

            through the waves’ refracted light,

            where distorted and insubstantial faces,

            gestures, words seem tossed about,

            seem to float along the surface,

            somewhere up there, above you—

            words and gestures from friends who care,

            who know and feel your loss,

            who, no doubt, have known their own

            and wish to pull you back

            to help you breathe again

            the air connection gives.


            And though you know

            you will not drown,

            you know, as well,

            the isolation

            of being left

            behind.                                                            BD 9/21/08


Day 18



Looking for Matthew


He’s gone . . . he is gone . . .

            but we must look for Matthew  . . .

            we must look for Matt

            where we can find him—

            in Jayvion and in Makai, of course,

            in that genetic and physical kind of way,

            but in ourselves, as well,

            in that way that you are another me

            and I am another you,

            and there, in that place,

            I see myself in Matt

            and Matt in me

            and not just in the smile,

            the determination,

            the vision of what might be,

            for Matt and I

            shared all that

            but shared, as well, much more—

            the struggles, the darker side

            that sometimes brought us low

            but never held us there.


            So I look for Matt each day,

            where, now, he lives—

            inside of me and I say,

            “Whassssup bro?”

            and he gives me

            that look of his—

            a gift, in my mind’s eye,

            that’ll carry me,

            carry me through

            another day.

            It’s all I

            can do

            but still

            I hurt,

            still I


                                                                        BD 9/22/08







Day 35


This I believe


I hear the voice of fear

            and I am afraid.

            I hear the voice of hope

            and I have hope.

            I hear the silence of the voiceless,

            and I weep—

            for I know that silence

            is shattered time and again,

            time and again by the sound of shots—

            and my child, our child,

            lies dead on the street,

            my street, our street

            and I weep, I weep

            for that loss

            of hope.


Yet, I live. I breathe and I speak

            and though I weep

            and though I am afraid

            and lie awake in the dark of night,

            I must not be silent.

            My voice, quavering

            as it sometimes may be,

            must speak the certainty I know,

            must be a voice for the voiceless,

            must be a voice of hope.

            This I believe.

                                                                        BD 10/9/08


Day 94


Matthew’s gift


In that time . . .

            approaching my sixtieth year,

            or maybe just past it

            when I had begun opening

            a door here and another there, into my soul,

            I came upon one, almost by accident,

            for it was nearly hidden from my view

            in a dark corner, there, far from the light,

            where dark loving vines, large from age

            and thick with new growth,

            had all but covered it.

            And with great effort,

            I managed to pry it open

            and caught a momentary

            vision of what had been

            hidden from me

            for all those “years/

            of unshed tears.”


And I thought, to myself,

            in that mistaken way we do

            when first we manage

            to pry such doors ajar,

            “Oh . . . this will be

            my year to grieve.”


And, now, closing rapidly

            on my seventieth year,

            moving, it seems, ever more slowly,

            with each new day speeding by,

            a smaller part of the whole,

            I have found a way to weep—

            a gift from Matthew

            that he may never know

            his death gave to me

            and, finally, I am here,

            ready to accept my tears,

            ready to weep.


And I do. They come, now,

            as if they had a will of their own,

            which is true of tears.

            They come when they want to,

            when they need to be wept,

            when they need to be wept, for me or for another.

            Oh . . . I have looked into that abyss that is me

            and I weep. I am free,

            now, to weep.                                     


                                                                                                BD 12/07/08



Third Year  ▪ Day 77





Grief felt, grief embraced

            is the handmaid to beauty—

            rich living soil

            that brings the soul to flower

            and then to fruit and then to harvest

            in daily acts of compassion,

            which is to say justice,

            which is to say beauty.


Grief ignored, grief buried

            is the handmaid to hate—

            sterile, despoiled soil

            that stunts the growing soul,

            twists and turns it in upon itself,

            withers it away

            in daily acts of fear,

            which is to say injustice,

            which is to say hate.