Rabbit: Celebrate the “Good Poet” Peter

When I think of death, and what you’re supposed to do on the occasion of someone’s passing when they matter to you, I think first of my grandmother who threw a vase of flowers at the wall after my grandfather died. Which I consider wholly appropriate. Then I think of what I did on that occasion, a solitary walk through a wheatfield singing to the sky, before I dropped down into the dirt to weep, and ultimately sleep. Which my family considered wholly inappropriate. Ah well, we all have our own ways to grieve those who have passed and celebrate their lives.

When you are part of a community, in this case the literary community, you share the good times and you share the losses. We shoulder the griefs in whatever way we can muster, and we carry our various memories and fully foibled gratitudes forward. One of the beauties of this transition is that writers leave legacies to aid the journey of those of us left behind. This is surely true of Peter Rabbit Douthit,  who died earlier this year. There will be a celebration of the his life at 7pm Monday, Dec 3, 2012 at Low Spirits Club, 2ND ST. NW just north of Menaul, Albuquerque. Admission is free. (21 plus.)

flyerThe Taos poet, nicknamed the “Don King of Poetry in New Mexico,” is probably best known for co-founding the Taos Poetry Circus, the beloved event with huge round robin open mics, various showcases, and a “bout” between two poets of national stature that ran like a boxing match, even with a ring girl. He was also what he modestly hoped to be remembered as, “a good poet.” I keep finding myself returning to his book Ornithology, some of which I showcased at an East of Edith last year. Even at the end, his short near-daily  “Beloveds” writings were powerful for anyone who got to read them.  Longtime writers and residents of New Mexico, all us older poets, are likely to remember Peter Rabbit well, both for his work with the  Circus and for his own writing. Personally, I practically “grew up” at the Circus, making annual pilgrimages to Taos to participate in readings and showcases, witnessing performances by some of the best writers I’d ever had the chance to hear, and meeting people I’d work with for years. I’m grateful.

And I’m glad that Monday people have the opportunity to read and talk, tell stories, play songs, and celebrate Peter’s life.

The Celebration at Low Spirits will be attended by numerous New Mexico poets with whom Rabbit worked over the years. Poems by Jimmy Santiago Baca, John Trudell, Bob Holman and other well known American poets will be read. Attending poets will include NM Centennial Poet Levi Romero and Albuquerque Poet Laureate Hakim Bellamy and Taos Poetry Circus co-founder Anne McNaughton, along with Gary Brower, Priscilla Baca y Candelaria, Larry Goodell, Amalio Madueño, Bill Nevins, Vanessa Boyd, Carlos Contreras and others. Films clips and documentaries of the life and times of Peter Rabbit will be shown. Music will be provided by Los Unusual Suspects blues band with Richard Malcolm, songwriter Vanessa Boyd and Los Notorious Green Suede Shoes. There will be a cash bar. (21 plus)

If you’re in Albuquerque, or near, I hope you can make it out. Likely I’ll be up on the high mesa at mountain’s edge, doing my own befuddled thing, but I will be thinking of Peter, and also of the other poets who we’ve lost in recent years. Dara McLaughlin, Gene Frumkin, Mary Rising Higgins, Cathy McCracken, Maisha Baton, Patricia Clark Smith, Lee Wilson, Todd Moore, plus musician Felix Wurman.  I’ll be mulling the gifts all these people brought us during their lives, the ways they keep giving. What I’ve learned.

And I’ll also be thinking of Anne McNaughton, Peter’s partner in life and poetry, how she kept us updated during the rough times, the gentle announcement of his death, and then one solitary word, as if whispered to Peter, that I caught on facebook. Or perhaps it’s a word I dreamt. Who knows. The word was “Congratulations.” Which seemed perfect. Life is hard, tumultuous, beautiful,  beautiful, beautiful, cantankerous and grinning–and when we do it well and fully the whole time, we’ve done good. Peter did good.

I close this blog post with a poem I wrote years back, around the time of the death of another friend Quincy, who I knew affectionately from his work as a sound engineer on Zerx Recordings. I wrote it during a time already heightened by other deaths that were making my head spin.  This poem wasn’t explicitly for Quincy (there was another for him with route 66 and a raven on a resting cow’s ear), nor is it “for” Peter. But I do suspect it’s one Peter could have appreciated–it might have made him smile or perhaps curse–and for me to honor  my memory of him, requires a bit of the cheeky or inappropriate, that razor’s edge of the ways we laugh and shrug and laugh, all wrapped sidelong in a natural landscape with cycles that can straighten the best of us out.


Open casket. View this:

a woman in a black dress

thinking inappropriate

thoughts. (Where

are the turkey vultures

when you need them?)

There must be some bird

that can pick clean

grief. On the mesa,

bones of a scattered cow

are sunbleached and bright,

the epicenter of the kill

indiscernible amongst

cholla and paintbrush.

There is no mourning.

A person forgets coyotes

and fails to remember

lowing. And why not?

This is how it is. We

goodbye and go on.

–lisa gill