Yesterday, I found out that my former professor and mentor, Dr. Andrew Dillon, had passed away after a long battle with cancer. The news slammed me with steel door heft, although I’d begun mourning Dr. Dillon weeks ago, when I first heard that he was terminally ill. Recalling all his wit, insight, advice and encouragement over the years, I was driven to tears.
I’d planned to write him a letter, expressing how much he’d meant to me as an English professor, and detailing the impact his instruction and support had on my life. But the only words that would come were Shakespeare’s words of mourning: “Now cracks a noble heart. Good night, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!” Poems of lamentation followed, but the praise, the gratitude, the marrow of all he meant to me were drowned out by my grief.
And then, weeks later, there was no letter written. No time left. The final exam was over. The blue book was closed.
There were just these words:
For Dr. Andrew Dillon
frosted in strangled light,
of that day you stood in the bricked breezeway
shaped like a gravestone,
your fine white hair set ablaze
by the waning sun.
Even then, you seemed fragile, as if your bones
bore the weight of all tragic literature.
Still, you leaped like a mullet at the sight of the moon,
back arched, knees bent,
until your feet planted on the desktop
and Lear rolled off your tongue,
dripping the loss of Cordelia.
Now, cancer, guiltier than Regan and Goneril,
plots your demise and the chemo, follows suit
making promises it can’t keep,
in the sappy declarations you, our King Lear, long to hear.
And I fear I shall never again see the flames
that lit you from within:
Bill Stafford verse that made the vein in your temple dance;
the fictional, chicken-knuckled words you encouraged;
first stanzas you excised in bloody ballpoint;
their words trampled in a mad dash for the meat of it all.
Because, today, my constant star is dying.
I still see you there, a raging silhouette,
fists balled against the supernova,
and I clamp my eyes shut,
so as not to see the cruel moment,
when you become that strangled light
frosting the grass.
Miss Snarky Pants