- Crypt*: In Memoriam, Ralph Waldo Ellison, 1914–1994
Back from the fingers of a twenty year old Barnard Rapunzel, raised on your embellished kidtales upcountry, and a garden too high for Plainfield to beat the frost, early and late;
then the Bennington gang, chaotic hollers from the academy and still, such eloquence as The Lottery, a grand, poetic excuse for ritual;
now Connecticut, where deep patterns of liquid science and art combine in sunsets, river wanderings, bluffs; you are Tuskegee Airman, gingertype: the annual football season of patterns in INVISIBLE MAN, who, defiantly, is not the author, leaping from rants to the bowels of Jack the Bear, a writer musing, in black and blue, over his memoir.
overcome’um with grandfather clauses. The eagle of the Hudson in Moby Dick soars in zenith of birds, plunges in shadows of the caverns, regal forever.
At the end, ‘who knows but that on the lower frequencies, I speak for you’; but it’s not over, as chaos reigns in the fictional light of polity, rainbow, without easy coalition. the artifact completes personality You are restless in the cylinder high above the patio, an empty chamber for the widow, Fanny, whose gaze will join yours out over the Hudson on Riverside Dr.: as ovenbird she will rescue those finished pages from the burning house, unfreezing inertia, releasing the cowering dog, as the cabin burns.
Trinity Chapel is shabby, invited guests, the secret press, your brother, friends, students, in tutelage, and the word comes from the committal stopped dead at four score, seconds only, a lifetime. And here comes chaos:
A man in a green jacket, with paltry tools, commands three swarthy, unkempt Hispanic workmen in unlaced nikes, such ceremony microscopic comfort for mourners (rollaway dolly grunting in hydraulics) and must be reminded of that democratic faith your prose lies in. Poet of invisibility, framed as Tarp limped in Fred Douglass’s remains, for Douglass’s house was set afire in Rochester, his portrait on the walls of the future, which was your dream. ‘You rascal, you’ you said to me; ‘uphill’ to your wondrous Fanny.
You read Patrice’s birthday postcard from Bard; the music of his tears are restless compositions as he remembers lessons from the pit: ‘trained incapacity’ is shadow: blessed is the act.
Remembering Ralph Ellison
• John F. Callahan, Frequencies of Memory: A Eulogy for Ralph Waldo Ellison
• Steve Cannon, Reminiscin’ in C: Remembering Ralph Waldo Ellison
• Leon Forrest, Ralph Ellison Remembered
• Michael S. Harper, “Crypt: In Memoriam, Ralph Waldo Ellison, 1914–1994”
• Keneth Kinnamon, Ellison in Urbana: Memories and an Interview
• David Levin, Ralph Ellison
• Nathan A. Scott, Jr., Ellison’s Vision of Communitas
• Richard Stern, Ralph Ellison
Selected Works by Ralph Ellison
• Cadillac Flambé
• The Roof, the Steeple and the People
Michael S. Harper is University Professor and Professor of English at Brown University. He recently co-edited Every Shut Eye Ain’t Asleep, an anthology of African American poetry from 1945 to the present. His forthcoming books of poems are Honorable Amendments and Collected Poems.
* Copyright © Michael S. Harper, 1995