from Real Change 4/15/2000

There are other people who know when Elluage was born, where he went to school, what he did during most of his life. We know him from his work with Real Change and StreetWrites. He spoke passionately; he raged against the drug dealers that turned swaths of his city into a wasteland, and against police who persecuted the innocent; an educated, intellectual and widely read black man, he raged against blacks who stereotyped themselves as well as others who stereotyped them; and he loved as passionately as he raged. He wrote in flights of ecstatic imagery and read them like jazz. He enthused about other writers; he would bring books to us, saying, "You must read Adrienne Rich!" He gave me a volume of the Pushcart Prize stories, to raise my sites in writing markets. He enthused about artists; he introduced his friend Selma to StreetLife Gallery; he said, "You must see Colleen McEllroy's work!"

He was generous in many other ways; he bought lunch for other members of the editorial committee when we couldn't afford it; he was generous with his time and his energy and his heart when he was ill and in pain. He struggled with lung cancer for the years that we knew him; we usually saw him with his portable oxygen tank, and he spoke his passionate words around long gasps through breathing tubes.

We knew for several years that we had him on borrowed time, that every time we got a new poem from him, or he came to a performance or to an editorial meeting, that it was a gift. It was still a shock and a grief to hear from Professor McEllroy that we had finally lost him. I procrastinated writing this tribute. I'm crying now for the first time, as I write, and now I know why I delayed. I'm making it real, now. I'm admitting that Elluage is gone.

Elluage was Christian. He would want me to be assured that he is alive forever now, in the joyful Presence of God, free from pain and the trials of our imperfect world. I am Christian, too, and I also believe that Elluage's great soul is eternal -- but in my human heart, I grieve, not for Elluage but for myself, as we all do, all of us who will selfishly miss him. Yes, I am glad for what we had, and I am glad for the poems and the memories he left behind. But I'm going to be crying for a while yet. I wanted more.

 

"When a nation has lost its magic,
look for alchemy to begin in its slums."