I often tell my poetry students that all poems are elegies, in the sense that even the most celebratory ode or heartfelt epithalamium has within its lines traces of that darker brush. We cling tighter to any moment of joy or celebration because we know it’s fleeting. The loved one is made all the more precious by the knowledge that he or she might leave us. Every poem tips its hat to this most basic principle, what Elizabeth Bishop called the “art of losing” in a poem I’ve often turned to in my own moments of loss.
Every poem is an elegy. I say that to my students, somewhat carelessly I’m sure, thinking I’ve hit upon some keen insight that I’m obligated to share. Then I sit down to write a blurb about an actual elegy I wrote and realize the world does not like such simple reductions. “Rhinestone” was a poem drafted when I was an undergraduate. I wrote it for a friend of mine, Baron, who died in a tragic accident. Actually, it’s probably more accurate to call it a freak accident. One involving an elevator and a fall.
Baron and I were similar in many ways. It was our first year in college. We were both first-generation college students. Parents working class. I met Baron at the Lambda Student Union, an organization for LGBTQIA youth. He’d joined the organization the semester before, had just come out, and then I walked in one day—awkward, scared, shaking as I recall. Baron was the one who took me under his wings, introduced me to the “other Marys” as he called his friends. Baron came from a fundamentalist Baptist family, and in those early, heady days of our college experience, you could see in the way Baron carried himself that he’d never in his life sensed so much possibility in the world. Then he was gone. I really don’t know how to acknowledge that particular species of unfairness. That’s probably why this introduction has gone on a little long.
I’ll end with this. Baron loved drag queens. RuPaul was his idol. He even played with the idea of doing drag himself, but he never got the chance. The poem reimagines Baron as I would like to remember him—putting on those sequined possibilities, the makeup not a mask, not hiding, but a glove thrown down. I hope I’ve answered the challenge.
Bradford Tice is the author of two books of poetry: Rare Earth (New Rivers Press, 2013), which was named the winner of the 2011 Many Voices Project and a 2014 Debut-litzer finalist, and What the Night Numbered (Trio House Press, 2015), winner of the 2014 Trio Award. His poetry and fiction have appeared in such periodicals as The Atlantic, North American Review, The American Scholar, Epoch, as well as in Best American Short Stories 2008. His poetry was also selected as the winner of Prairie Schooner’s 2009 Edward Stanley Award. He currently teaches at Nebraska Wesleyan University in Lincoln.
Illustration by Matt Manley. Matt has been working as a freelance illustrator for over twenty years. His illustration is primarily figurative and symbolic with surrealist leanings, and past client work includes editorial, corporate, medical, book, and higher education. Though in the end his work is technically digital collage, the process integrates both traditional and digital media. Collage elements are original oil paintings and drawings, with occasional scanned found objects and photos added to the mix, all united in Photoshop .