By Jeeni Criscenzo
It was in the back of my mind
in line with everything I’ve meant to do,
to visit you
and get a personal tour of your gardens.
But days flew by
and well, you know how it goes,
though our paths crossed occasionally
I never got there.
You were one of my first San Diego friends.
Met that day on Oceanside Beach
putting crosses in the sand.
Just saw you recently, too briefly,
at the Vets for Peace Convention.
If I’d known it would be the last time
I would have lingered,
but because I’d just been snubbed
by someone I thought was a friend,
I was feeling out of place
and eager to be elsewhere, anywhere.
You gave me that generous smile
that put me back together again.
Joe, I had it in mind
to visit you,
and your gardens,
get a personal tour,
you could tell me the names of all your favorites,
their little plant idiosyncrasies,
like they are grandchildren.
And maybe over tea we’d reminisce
about that letter you wrote
to your beloved Greg
about the wedding of Jeenie and Juan
(you never could get my named spelled correctly
– no matter).
It was such a beautiful letter,
about the toast we made just before cutting the cake
in what happened to be that space in time
when it was okay to marry whomever you loved
before it wasn’t again,
and then it would become okay again.
You told Greg that my words went straight to your heart
when I said I couldn’t imagine
not being allowed to marry the person I loved.
You wrote that if Greg was there
you would have gone as newlyweds.
You shared that fifteen years earlier
you had wed yourselves.
You ended saying
“And something else these institutions cannot do
is dissolve love after death.”
As I grieve today,
as I ponder the persistent questions that emerge
to torture our souls when life abruptly ends for someone dear:
Why am I here?
Does something of us linger
when the threshold of no longer being alive is crossed?
Is there justice, at last, in death?
Do those who suffer experience a balancing of the scales
with those who have caused suffering?
Where do those we love go?
Did you wonder if your dear Greg could actually read your letter,
as I am wondering if somehow you know I am writing this?
Does it matter?
Does anything matter if we’re all going to die for certain,
no matter what?
Did everything you did,
all the friends you made,
all the people you cared about,
all of those letters to the editor you wrote,
all of the protests you helped to organize,
all the crosses you placed in the sand…
did any of it make a difference?
You made a difference to me.
Your genuine smile
that made me feel valued,
it mattered to me.
we know it doesn’t matter that you didn’t finish,
that’s the thing with gardens
they are never finished
it’s the act of gardening that counts,
like love and friendship,
always a work in progress.
I meant to get up to Fallbrook,
to visit your garden and you.
Whose hands will pull the weeds now?
Whose feet will crunch the dried mulch on the paths?
Who will notice the birds and butterflies?
Who will imagine how to arrange the plants next season?
I hope you get to hang around a bit after dying.
Maybe Juan and I could meet you in your garden,
with Greg, and Tanja and Susan.
We could discuss the signs we’ll need for the climate march in December
You make the best signs…
why’d you have to go so soon?
We still have so much work to do,
and I didn’t realize how much I cherish you,
until I lost the chance to tell you so.
In memory of Joe Howard Crews who left us wanting more of him on October 27, 2015.
Read his touching letter to his husband Greg, written on the occasion of my marriage to Juan del Rio on June 2008 here.