Events Reflections

In Memoriam: Bernard Pearce

We remember the brilliant Bernard Pearce. May he rest in power.

By Abram Himelstien, Editor in Chief

I didn’t know it, but I was talking to Bernard in his last days. I had written to him that UNO Press wanted to do a book of his poetry, and he began to call and email, electric with the idea of publishing. 

“Yeah, I’m in the hospital right now, so this idea is better than my current reality.” He was expansive and funny—two of his calling cards—and also sober about the medical reality he was facing. He posted that week:   

life is a funky carnival
my body ain't trying to be my friend
enjoy your youth if, in fact, you're able
time is weird in the way that it moves
playing tricks on us we feel like fools
I once felt as if I was standing on solid ground
now it  feels like slipping sand
inside the hourglass, there is no sound
just memories flashing by
I'll never spend another winter anywhere again
with its dying leaves and gray skies
I will plant my flag in sunshine and heat

I said goodbye to him, and slipped into a reading with a writer I had been admiring for two decades. I allowed myself to imagine, at that moment, what it would be like to celebrate a book release with Bernard: I imagined the jokes and storytelling, and, because we are allowed to dream, I imagined eating his gumbo as a part of the ritual of book release. 

When I came home that night, there were three manuscripts in my inbox- his first two self-released books, and a monster new manuscript. For those that knew Bernard- the human, and Bernard the poet- these are a small comfort in this moment:

Gumbo is a gift 
carried across troubled waters 
by my ancestors 
passed down from plantation cauldrons 
to slave quarter French Quarter courtyards
to shotgun shack kitchens 
from my grandmothers’ black pot to my eager
spoon when the aroma of rich brown broth fills my
lungs I am transported to childhood 
I am connected to memories that are shared by
millions the echoes of Senagalese work songs 
fill up my soul 
yes I’ll have another bowl 
I’ll make a big pot 
you can have the recipe 
simmer slowly for 400 years
you can sup upon 
this treasure 
that I’ll gladly share 
with you  

We will gather this Sunday to celebrate Bernard in three/four/five of his languages: poetry/music/food/friendship/love.

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