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The Brooklyn Rail

MARCH 2021

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MARCH 2021 Issue
Poetry A Tribute to Lewis Warsh

Dad you are this cloud I am looking at above the San Francisco Bay


There was a bedtime routine involving dad as hyperactive wolf. How did we ever sleep?


A trick involving Dad’s hair and a rubber band – we thought it was hilarious.


Summers at Whispering Pines. Mom and Dad baked whole wheat bread. The screened porch with a
swinging bed. Gershwin’s “Summertime” playing. The yellow convertible. Dad’s crazy butterfly stroke –
he was always practicing.


Friday night family dinners at the Odessa.


The F train ride to Manhattan from Brooklyn. When Dad lived in his first Park Slope apartment on Fifth
Avenue and he was dating Barbara Henning.


Brooklyn beach trips, warm Orangina and cheese sandwiches, everything a little caked in sand. We
named the waves after sweet treats – small: Twinkies, medium: Cupcakes, large: Devil Dogs. Later Dad
would watch while I went on the Tilt-A-Whirl.


Our first VHS movie in the sleeping loft at Dad’s apt on Clinton Street – Close Encounters of the Third
Kind.


Spaghetti and meatballs – the meatballs were just meat and I still secretly like them that way.


A hamster named Pickles, fighting fish, and eventually Buckwheat, a stray cat we got from our super
David Morrison.


I remember when Dad would pick us up from PS 19, when he started dressing less hippy – short hair,
white button down shirt, sort of tucked into his jeans, the shoulder bag. The walk home down First
Avenue.


Dad sometimes bought records from street vendors – Tracy Chapman, Suzanne Vega, Madonna,
Crowded House, Tears for Fears, the Bangles.


The old back room at Veselkas, egg cream for Dad, milkshakes for us.


Summer trips to New England. Mushy summer vegetables, Dad swimming in his denim cutoffs. Endless
games of Ping Pong.

Learning to play catch and softball. Sitting in the bleachers at Shea Stadium with everyone who got
cheap tickets from Doris and Phil at Two Boots. Dad loved watching Marie and Max playing team sports.


The pleasure of going to the movies together, possibly seeing a few grown up movies a little too soon
but liking it.


Dad driving me and Wang Ping in one of his infamous cars to Chinatown, for grocery shopping. He would
double park and we would go to all the markets.


The many trips to stationary stores, where we would look at all of the paper products, and Dad would
take pleasure in buying us a notebook.


When Dad studied German and piano (his classical music phase). He loved to study just to study, just like
Grandpa.


Dad putting up with Passover. We loved Hide the Matzoh! Dad and Grandma arguing about racism.
Grandma eventually discovering that Dad was a famous poet. Shared birthday cakes from Venieros.


School lunches: muenster cheese sandwich with lettuce on a soft roll, a generous stack of Entenmann’s
chocolate chip cookies wrapped in copious amounts of tin foil. A Capri Sun. All in a small brown paper
bag.


Sunday nights watching Twin Peaks. Trying not to look when Blue Velvet was on!


He bought all these fashion magazines to make collages and I would be reading a Cosmo and suddenly
there would be a big hole in it. He got us a subscription to Sassy which he did not cut up.


Dad took me shopping at vintage stores in the 90’s and patiently tried to understand why I was buying
large men’s pants. He also took me to Capezio for all my ballet gear.


Hot summer nights in Park Slope eating fruit salad and cottage cheese for dinner on the back porch, cats
fighting. Then we would watch tv. Dad loved Benson.


The classic Dad afternoon – a museum, lunch and an art supply or stationary store trip. In particular I
remember us “discovering” Vija Celmins in the 90’s. The excitement of meeting up outside a museum
and the exhaustion after.


Dad would send me occasional twenty dollar bills while I was in college. We talked about jazz and dance
a lot. He loved my friend Elizabeth Ward who is still a dancer.


Talking about Rackstraw Downes all the time – how did he do it? We loved it.


The many trips to Utrecht and NY Central for art supplies. Putting up with the grumpy people who
worked at NY central. The role reversal years later when I began to buy art supplies for Dad.


Dad and I ended up at The Vermont Studio Center during the same winter session – we were an
entertaining duo.


Dad and Katt helped me rent and furnish my first apartment in Bushwick. Katt came over with a cart full
of useful things and kindly put up curtains.


We went to the Flaming Lips documentary at the Two Boots Pioneer Theater. We were both in awe of
Wayne Coyne.


For about a year I worked at the writing center at LIU and made friends with Valerie Deus and Courtney
Bourque Frederick. It was a glimpse into Dad’s work life that I relished.


Trading detective novels, especially Scandinavian crime. Dad would always say – wait until it’s in
paperback.


Dad always getting so excited whenever I got a new boyfriend, and he would stop, usually in the middle
of the street and exclaim something like “see – things happen!” He just loved romance.


The 60th birthday party that Katt planned for dad, where he got toasted, and roasted.


Dad had a willingness to help me with any situation and also the ability to totally forget he said he would
help me. But it always evened out in the end.


I’ll miss our discussions about collage making and the attributes of various art supplies like gel medium.


Hanging out with Dad when Katt was out of town – he missed her, and we would eat comfort foods to
make up for it.


Dad came to visit me in St. Louis, and we talked for so long that my mouth hurt and we both needed to
lie down. I still don’t remember what we were talking about.


Dad became my second mentor while I was in graduate school in Boulder. I called him after my
comprehensive exams and he eagerly listened to all of the details. He was so excited that I was
becoming a “Plant Scholar”, which I gently reminded him was called a botanist.


Dad’s experiences as teenager visiting Boulder included going to poetry readings on the Hill. He claimed
that the streets of downtown Boulder were made of dirt and that he got mugged there, for the first
time.


When Dad visited Boulder to teach at Naropa, we had lunch with some Denver poets I had become
friends with, and then he sent them all boxes of books.


In the summer of 2018 he returned to Boulder and we drove around in the heat, attending readings
together and eating out. He loved to search for presents for Katt.


When I moved to the Bay Area, Dad was thrilled. He told me about hitch hiking to Mendocino to camp
on the beach alongside real live hobos. The next morning he immediately bought a New York Times, a
bar of chocolate and a carton of milk.


We had a lot of discussions as he was editing his part of Piece of Cake, and between us called it the
cupcake book.


Dad and I loved to discuss the antics and amazing qualities of his granddaughters, my nieces, Zola and
Veera. Would what they do next?


A few years ago Dad had a breakthrough moment when he realized spending time in nature was
entertaining - like tv he said. He loved the wild turkeys.


I miss Dad’s bad handwriting.


One of the last things we talked about was Philip Guston. Dad described his transition away from
abstract expressionism and his influence on the poets at that time. Dad said “he just started with a line!
And look where it took him.”


I miss walking the streets with Dad, chatting and commenting about everything under the sun, the
spatial and temporal rhythms of the city unfolding around us. The simple thrill of just getting a coffee.


Now I imagine Dad when I go to Agate Beach in Bolinas, an almost hidden spot, that he told me all
about. It turns out to be part of a marine reserve, full of wildlife.


Dad said he wanted to live until my birthday and that was the last time I saw him. He said I love you
forever.

Contributor

Sophia Warsh

Sophia Warsh is a botanist and horticulturist who lives in Oakland, CA.

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The Brooklyn Rail

MARCH 2021

All Issues