love to you and

the way you hold a

pencil,     the way you bend and tilt

 

toward what is important, toward

what moves you     and yet holds

 

you in stilled animation,

wonder,     desire;

 

the way your face      opens

to the widest smile, the

 

bluest

laugh,          like music

 

giving in.     love to you and

the granular tender-

 

ness in your eyes, on your

finger   tips, between the     universe

 

of your lips,     the tension of your sighs. this

kind of     love     has no name; it is just a

 

grate   ful   ness to be in the

same world with      you.

from when you died

there are missing pages in my

diary from when you died.

 

it was not a time for growing

poetry; all the words went in-

 

to the eulogy—which made every

thing else seem meaningless: even

 

music felt foreign and wrong. i

questioned every thing—my job,

 

my place in the family, my space

in the world. all my energy went

 

into finding documents, finding

pictures, trying to find you in the

 

boxes and piles of audio cassettes,

ledgers, sewing kits, coffee mugs.

 

it wasn’t until much later that the

words began to knit together; they

 

were in my head all along—but

needed to be brought to cohesion.

 

there’s a reason this time remains in

my mind: it is a hunt, a meditation, a

 

docking station for the spirit. i must

remember the things that god can do.

 

i must remember that music is for

feeling, and poetry is for eating.

 

i must remember the empty pages

from when you died, with love.

 

 

 

 

 

art

when you arrive at the perfect piece,

it sits in your mouth like a kiss,

 

a deliciousness you wish you could

hold onto forever. sometimes i

 

wait at the bus stop, and the big

whoosh lumbers up, and i wave

 

it away. i’m waiting, i say, but not

for the bus. for what, i cannot

 

articulate; but when it comes, it’s

like going back through the tunnel

 

and finding the seed from which

you sprang, and everything else

 

just falls away, and the song you sang

as a child rings like a bell in its wake.

 

ovoid

the mamas bring the

music and the light,

 

stroking sweet-

ness into being,

 

inoculating against

the self-made man.

 

every where you look

is a circuit board

 

waiting for

lightning.

 

the stars are

still inebriated.

 

i keep my hands

at 10 and 2

 

as i measure

you, ride

 

your war-

torn body

 

past the banyans

into the sunrise.

18/81

tj bday

the thought of you coming into this world
makes me smile. imagining the look on your
mother’s face as she gazed on you for the
first time is almost too much to take.

something amazing passed into the world that day:
it made people stop and turn and go out of their way
to hold, to touch, to be in that blanket of time
and openly yearn for a bigger blanket, more say.

all these years later, you are still making people
stop and listen and reach and want and love.
i feel honored to be a tiny part of that play; if all
the world’s a stage, you make it one hell of a show.

it’s not an easy space to fill; it’s difficult to face most days.
but you, just by being uniquely you, inspire us deep from the roots:
to show up, to fuck up, to get up, to laugh, to rock, to create,
to live, to love, to mock, to tell our story, to be real, to celebrate.

Thank you, Tommy, for being in the world.

Happy birthday with much love.

TJ pencil

Sketches of Tommy Joe Ratliff by Olivia Santiago

shout

the first time you
play out the skele-
ton of a song, you
hear the flesh be-
coming; you

dress the beautiful
bones like a doll. the
rush of blood and
breath comes last, once
it’s all assembled and

cast into the world
for her to sing along.
then, it will never be the
same; then, it will never
sound like that very first

time. your job is to
create, to not think past
that, to let it all happen, to
feel the full measure; whole-
note stomping in—then, out.

we are all connected (or, the softer side of obsession)

for tjr: today and every day


it happened while i wasn’t looking;
it happened while i was in pretty deep—

trying to climb up and out from that steep
dark that meets me even in my sleep.

but this time, you. you were there, too,
saying, yeah, i feel it; it’s true

but, it will pass. hold on, like the last time;
hold on, and it will lose its power,

and you will
rise.

it means every thing to have another
being there to say – i’m here

and not
much else.

it means every thing to have
a hand reaching out, an ear opening,

a heart-mind waiting to
wrap itself around you.

even across the creeping
light-years, miles, blues, trials:

we        are        all        connected
and that has made all the difference.



20150603_203545-1

Painting of Tommy Joe Ratliff by Olivia Santiago