Friday, June 15, 2018

his dreams rise like the Tetons

Pete Wales

how can we still live
when we’re not here any more?
my own dad cautioned me
that the only thing sure about an afterlife
was that we are still around
as long as anyone remembers us,

Pete Wales deserves to be remembered:

a man born while World War II
demanded doubt about the future
and his parents chose hope instead,

his childhood both in the frigid optimism of the Northeast
and the tropical possibilities of the Virgin Islands,

his schooling was of the best,
including in Chapel Hill during the early Sixties
where politics called to him
as a way out of the nightmare
that race visits upon the South,
the legal system a way 
for practicality to wed with idealism,
a law degree from the University of Chicago,
a calling to Mississippi, then to Texas,
a calling to teach that called to him all the rest of his life,
for decades teaching graduate students at Georgetown Law School,
a place where countless students and staff
felt the power of his intellect and calling,
the needs of the mentally ill a particular focus for him,
if only solutions could be as clear as an antibiotic for infections,

in his own life, performance, drama, the musical,
also pulled him out of the easy into the public,

I imagine what he first saw
when he visited Jackson Hole, Wyoming,
where a flat rich valley
serves as pedestal, foundation,
to the snow-capped Tetons
who thrust toward the sky,

so like his dreams of a better world
that led him to Mississippi and to mental health,

there in the Tetons, the woods, the slopes, the trails,
the snow, and the Snake River’s wonders,
called to him and to his kids,

I love the stories of his dancing every Sunday night,
pushing the outside of the envelope
even when A.L.S. fought to hold him back,
in a kayak enjoying the Oxbow with his son
even when his muscles fought his desires to paddle,

when America was caught up in the fear of the transgender, in hate,
he asserted himself at a Wilson, Wyoming, bar,
by joining with other men across the state to wear a tutu,
to reject the message to deny, to hide,

while breath still came to Pete, he would live to the fullest,
A.L.S. fought to deny him any more full moments,
yet with his last energies, 
he cared,
he loved,
he did his best
and hoped the world would do the same.

by Henry H. Walker
June 13, ‘18

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