Essay

You Can't Come Halfway Home From the Bar

One writer's obsession with a little known poet leads him on a bizarre odyssey to the Russian River Valley.

by Ian Daly

Monte Rio is little more than a cluster of clapboard buildings, a supermarket, and a gloriously run-down watering hole called The Pink Elephant. The town movie theater is housed in a big Quonset hut painted with outdoorsy murals. There’s a Northern Exposure charm to the place that’s more Fairbanks than Bay Area.

There’s something eerie about the place as well. In winter it rains almost daily, and a haunted, shifting mist metastasizes and lingers like a specter at night. The redwoods form a dense green canopy. Moss covers ubiquitous “winding road” signs, and retaining walls frame vistas of battered old cars and wooden houses. The Russian River is more like a sheet of slow-moving silt. Everything seems stuck in suspended animation.


Monte Rio's welcome sign and the Rio Theater, 2007. (author's photo)



When Monte Rio’s logging days were over around the turn of the century, it morphed into a blue-collar getaway—a sort of Catskills for the NoCal set. But by the time Jeffrey and Codrescu arrived in the ’70s, San Francisco’s counterculture had gained a northern foothold here, and the weirdness was in full swing. The local kids paid for everything in food stamps, occasionally storming the town’s only grocery store for beers and fleeing across the river to crack them open under big, shady trees. The Hells Angels rumbled through town on weekend runs, juiced up on amphetamines. There were town drunks and lumberjacks, Quaalude pushers and oblivion-powder purveyors. And then there were the limousines of incognito bigwigs (and, not uncommonly, their hookers) on their way up to the Bohemian Grove—that infamous 2,700-acre compound where Bilderbergs, CEOs, and high-profile statesmen (Nixon, Reagan, and Kissinger among them) retreat for secret meetings in redwood encampments, don hooded robes, and gather for lakeside effigy-burning ceremonies around an enormous stone owl. On the other side of town, an heiress named Mary Hayssen ran a commune with drifters from the Angels of Light, San Francisco’s gay performing arts troupe. It was an unlikely and glorious assemblage of variegated freaks in a part of the world that freaks made famous—sparser than San Francisco, certainly, but also totally unplagued by the buzz-harsh urban realities that by then had ripped the daisy from the city’s hair.

And that didn’t even include the poets.

If Bolinas, the coastal outpost 40 miles south of Monte Rio that Snyder and Kyger called home, could be thought of as the proverbial “Garden” of the West Coast literary scene, then Monte Rio was its dive bar. It was ragtag and gritty—a matter of pride for those who came to be known as the Russian River poets (a demarcation more of shared geography than of style). One of them was Hunce Voelker, a gay filmmaker and biographer of the poet Hart Crane, who had a three-story wooden A-frame on the north side of a redwood in nearby Rio Nido—replete with moat, drawbridge, and a pair of penis-shaped fountains that spurted water from their concrete tips. He’d relied on a steady stream of drifter labor to construct his creaky wonderland. A lone bull he’d named Ocean Peace (and who was also, he’d decided, gay) wandered the property.

Pat Nolan, a reticent Montreal transplant who edited a literary magazine called The End, lived there, too, with his poet wife, Gail King. Codrescu landed there in 1974, bringing his peculiar brand of Transylvanian surrealism and wry irreverence with him. His poetry collection License to Carry a Gun (1970) had won him a $5,000 NEA grant. He used it for a down payment on a little house up the hill from Main Street and set off to work on a memoir.

At 11 a.m. on a gray Monte Rio morning, Pat Nolan met me at my little riverside hotel, sporting a thick ponytail and a faded jean jacket, to take me on the Jeffrey Miller “death tour.” My fellow travelers included graduate students, people who’d come across Jeffrey’s barely available poetry and felt the weird gravity of his death the way I did, and a Romanian film crew who’d been sold on Codrescu’s myth about Jeffrey, thinking they were on the trail of the poetic equivalent of James Dean.

“It’s that Jimi Hendrix/Janis Joplin thing, I guess,” Nolan said. “Young guy with lots of promise bites the dust.” We got into my rented red Chevy subcompact and followed the river into town.

The big event in Monte Rio back in the ’70s was the mail. In the morning, Codrescu and Nolan would wander down to the concrete post office to retrieve it and then head over to a greasy spoon called the Knotty Room to go through their letters. One day an envelope of poems showed up in Nolan’s mailbox from someone named Jeffrey Miller, who’d written at the behest of one of his college professors back in Michigan. They’d never seen anything quite like them.

“His poems captured the kind of rock ’n’ roll fervor that infected everything in those days,” Nolan said. “Incredibly hip, witty, sardonic, surreal, and seized with savage energy.” They wrote Jeffrey back with an invitation to come to Monte Rio anytime.

The two are still in disagreement about the exact day the newest, youngest member of the Russian River scene showed up on their doorstep—“a flinty-eyed poet with spiky blond hair and a wicked smirk,” as Nolan remembers it. But they agree on one thing: there was something special about the 23-year-old Jeffrey who rolled into town alone in the summer of ’75—steeped in Iggy Pop and Ted Berrigan—with a few boxes of belongings, a couple packs of Marlboro reds, and, as Codrescu describes it, “this crazy idea we all had at the time that you could still make a living as a poet.” Before long he was part of the Knotty Room roundtable, bullshitting between drags about the nature of truth and beauty and, probably just as often, the relative merits of various rock bands and the acquisition of illicit substances. He and Codrescu were instant friends, taking long walks and lingering at the local dive bars, where they’d do their best to parlay their poetic condition into rounds of free drinks. My aunt showed up later that year.

“I guess we really did have a scene,” Codrescu said. “There was some kind of sharing and battle of egos—and poets being poets, you always wanted to be better than somebody else.” They held readings in winter at an old abandoned roadhouse along the river, where the poets recited by lantern light and the only entrance fee was a bundle of firewood, since the place had no electricity. On the weekends they’d make the drive to San Francisco to read at bookstores and coffee houses. Jeffrey’s first real gig there was at a cafe called 80 Langton Street.

“He spent the whole day preparing,” his friend Bruce Cheney recalled in The Heart Is a Quarter Pounder. “Not by practicing poems, but by pasting fake brick wallpaper on all his clothes so he’d blend in with the wall.”

Those days were an odd era of in-between-ness—sandwiched, as they were, between the fallout of the Love Generation and the sometimes directionless soul-searching that came after it. “The war in Southeast Asia had just ended, but the stream of casualties was still coming in,” Codrescu wrote in his memoir, An Involuntary Genius in America’s Shoes (Black Sparrow Press, 2001). “The tatters of the Love Utopia hung sadly from soon-to-be-ravaged AIDS bodies. Anger was building in every layer of America, looking for release.” The punk scene was just beginning to burn a hole in the San Francisco skyline—which was fine with the Russian River poets. That raw energy and acetylene irreverence were sensibilities they shared with their mohawked brethren. They even had some common enemies. The foundation laid by their heroes from the New York School—the Frank O’Haras and Ted Berrigans—was under attack, as they saw it, by an encroaching tidal wave of intolerable dullness: the Language Poets.

“These guys did their best to make everything boring really fast,” Codrescu said. “The stuff they did was just so sexless and not very alive. That pissed us all off. We discussed it to no end.” Lining up their defenses, they chose Jeffrey to head up the First International Punk Poetry Festival, though he’d die before he was able to play that role. It was an obvious choice: Jeffrey’s verse had the kind of humor and grotesquery that recalled Hunter S. Thompson at his best:

MY BOTTLE OPENER IS M I A

my bottle opener is M I A & I’m searching
the beer is lined up on the table & it’s not american
beer which can be opened with a soft american twist
no this is Mexican Beer in thick brown bottles
if a whore smashed a GI in the face with one of these
blood would splash out maybe his eye would hang
he could show his grandkids the scar & say get me a beer
if it was american beer the kid could open the bottle
but this is Mexican Beer & i’m in my kitchen, a jungle,
searching, because you need an opener for these babies
they’re like hand grenades without a pin to pull
& I’m no pacifist i’m just on my own side

But to anyone who knew him back then, poetry wasn’t Jeffrey’s only obsession.

* * *

 

HANDCUFFED TO THE ONE I LOVE

Which came first, the chicken
or The Shake & Bake? It’s a rough job
being a poet during these modern times, folderol
it’s a snap, Exhibit A: me. Each day, stepping
into nothing like it was my pants, I’m tickled
pink, a dog about to piss the length
of The Great Wall of China. We’re buddies,
me and the huge terrier. We boat calm as tourists along
the captured and monotonous ocean.
Like heroin down a motel toilet

Jeffrey and Michele lived in a wooden shack by the edge of Mary Hayssen’s commune land, at the top of a steep, muddy slope surrounded by redwoods of an unsettling scale. The hull of a massive ark—the abandoned project of some long-gone hippie—lay decaying at the bottom of the hill. Jeffrey christened it the SS Tutti Fruiti.

The shack itself was austere, with a big Plexiglas window and a woodstove in the kitchen next to a redwood burl table. It had a loft bed up top and a big, heavy door made out of 2x4s that led to the room where Jeffrey did his writing, perched above a drizzling creek. Outside, he’d planted a little patch of grass he called “Larry the Lawn,” a fruit tree he nicknamed “Paul Pear,” and a crop of marijuana that remained nameless but nevertheless essential to the relentless pursuit of poetry and recreation. Out-of-focus snapshots from back then show Jeffrey and Michele looking groggy and in love—leaning on the hulks of beater cars, drinking beer, lounging on balconies, and hanging out with friends in various stages of pre-, post-, and full-on party. In one picture, Jeffrey reposes, bleary-eyed, in ripped jeans and a pair of Converse All-Stars laced three eyes down from the top. His hair is strawlike. My aunt leans against his knee with her face half-hidden, giving the camera a look that’s at once drowsy and intense. Golden sunlight casts parallelograms on the wall.

“He would watch me sleep,” my aunt told me later. “No one will ever love me the way he did.”

They kept two Plymouth Valiants in the yard—one with a bad engine and a perfect exterior, the other with the perfect motor in a ravaged body. The organ transplant never quite materialized. “Jeffrey’s utopian mechanics were mainly in his head,” Codrescu wrote in his memoir. “But like most Americans he needed a piece of hardware to refer to, just in case.” Jeffrey worked odd jobs, painting houses and cutting down trees. The trees out west scared the hell out of him, Codrescu recalls, their branches alone wider than the trunks he sawed through in New England. Michele worked as a waitress at a restaurant 10 miles west of Monte Rio in Jenner-by-the-Sea, where the Russian River spilled out into the Pacific. At night, her pockets loaded with quarters, she’d drive through the fog back to the cabin, where Jeffrey would be waiting for her.

There were always parties—at Hunce’s penis-themed wonderland, at Mary’s commune with the drag queens and roving bands of truth-seeking San Francisco defectors, at Codrescu’s place, the local bars, or in the cabin over cheap wine and candlelight. There were dalliances on both sides.

There was also, as there had always been here, fighting. Jeffrey wasn’t all wit and charm. He had a confrontational side, too. Growing up in Grand Blanc, the upper-middle-class suburb of Flint, Michigan, where he had met my aunt in high school, he took his parents’ divorce pretty badly. When his schoolteacher mother remarried, Jeffrey apparently became so bitter and uncontrollable that he had to live with his grandmother until he finished high school. At times he went so far as to toss rocks at the windows of his mother’s house. Codrescu told me about at least one occasion when Jeffrey attacked Codrescu’s writing so viciously—so fundamentally—that it left him hurt and reeling for years. My mother remembers him picking fights over things as minor as the choice of radio station in the car—painting a portrait of him, three decades later, as someone as consumed with adopting the mantle of disaffected poet as with advancing the art itself. His mercurial tendencies, combined with my aunt’s general aimlessness and dependency on him back then, sometimes resulted in disaster. There are family allegations that one of their arguments ended with Jeffrey striking my aunt in my parents’ driveway—on my parents’ wedding day—and for a brief period, my uncle wanted Jeffrey’s head.

Jeffrey and Michele were one of those couples who were perpetually breaking up and getting back together. Michele recalls walking out on him more than a few times, making it all the way down the driveway and into the car, and slamming the thing into reverse—at which point Jeffrey would throw himself onto the hood to keep her from leaving. She’d turn on the windshield wipers to dislodge him. This was usually when things would end in laughter.

“I’d try to leave him all the time, the little fucker,” she told me later. “And he’d try to leave me, too. But there was just something about it—we couldn’t do it.” In the odd times that she made it farther than the driveway—in some cases all the way back home—there would be letters with paragraphs like this one:

The scar on Michele’s mouth is unbelievable. The rich & beautiful want to buy it from her, they’ll pay anything & maybe she has her price, it’s a mystery. The scar is a delicate surprise, like sitting alone by a quiet lake at midnight & having the mysterious women step into sight carrying a silver tray with a slice of heat lightning on it. . . .

“I don’t think I loved him that much,” my aunt told me when she showed me that letter recently.

In the syrupy swelter of late summer Florida twilights, my aunt talked a lot about the love between her and Jeffrey—addictive as it was dysfunctional, intense as it was infuriating. She’d always tried to draw comparisons between what she had and my own relationships. It was a nice thought. But the truth is I never felt as if I had a love like that. I still don’t. In some sense, it feels as though it’s too late. A love like that depends on the strange electrical passion of just being young.

I was coming to Monte Rio on the heels of another failed relationship—my last grab as a twentysomething at a completely ill-advised, intense, and impractical love. It didn’t end well. If coming to Monte Rio was a way of mourning what my aunt and Jeffrey had, it was also a way of mourning what I never did.

Writers talk a lot about authenticity—the need to get at some semblance of truth within the gorgeous mess of the human condition. This isn’t bullshit. I like to think it’s what stitches our whole tattered community together. To that end, Jeffrey’s life and work became a sort of superlative for me—the metaphorical stand-in for “what’s real.” And his early death only magnified it. Death is an incomplete circuit, an electric potential. It is the origin of fear and obsession. And whatever form it takes, it tends to be all-consuming. I had mine in Jeffrey. And Jeffrey, it turns out, had his in his brother, Kurt.

“Jeffrey was a little bit mad,” my aunt told me. “He really was. After his brother died, that really did him.”

* * *



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Originally Published: December 17, 2008
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COMMENTS (24)

On December 19, 2008 at 7:29am Joshua Costin wrote:
Enlighghtening

On December 19, 2008 at 6:24pm Rob Rust wrote:
made me want to take a long midnight drive until the gas tank's empty. Then start walking.

i'll be revisiting this one.

On December 20, 2008 at 7:45pm Gail Hayssen wrote:
I remember this all quite well except there is an error in the story. Mary was in Elk Hart lake Wisconsin when she received the call of Glenns death. He was her closest friend and was devastated by the news. I know where she was in Wisconsin not California as I was standing next to her at the time the call came in.

The stories I could tell you of that time. But maybe you know them all by now.

On December 21, 2008 at 1:27am Brenda Skinner wrote:
sad, moving-- in real time: endings don't usually finish neat, tidy or with pretty bows-- Thank you for sharing.

On December 23, 2008 at 3:39pm David Zauhar wrote:
Great essay. I still have a copy of First One's Free. We'll never be 16 with our hand in pamela's pants ever again, but Miller's poems will always be there to bring it all back.

On December 31, 2008 at 9:01pm Carol Derfner wrote:
Pretty wonderful how Ian captures a little slice of the times, the place and the soulful people who converged in small communities along the Russian River.

I travelled around "with the band" in those days and Guerneville was always a stopover. Drug, sex and rock 'n roll for days on end... poetry too!

I think Jeffrey Miller was a sort of Everyman of his time -- or, at the least, the wild one we all wanted to be... Thanks Ian.

On January 2, 2009 at 8:28pm Caroline Conway wrote:
are we still allowed to use the word *tragic* ? please fill in the blank with that one, if so.

fine writing & admire the shape of this piece. it's tight but has room for all of the 'empty' to filter in.

cheers.

On January 3, 2009 at 10:24pm gil helmick wrote:
those days were full of verve, the scent of raw creation and the pregnant aromas of redwood and musk. the air quivered with light. for many, anarchy was conservative. i recall nights that would have caused a bus load of waylaid beatniks to blush, demur, race south and seek guidance.

i was at jeffrey's party. i left shortly before the fateful entourage.

the next day, i was unexpectedly at my cabin. it clung to the mountain at whose base jeffrey perished. i was scrubbing the white walls attempting to remove a letter written in blood.

i was living with a girl a forestville. i left the cabin in monte rio to a friend who was negotiating the hairpin turns,switch backs and destroyed guard rails of cocaine and divorce. that morning, i was pulled from the toxin residues of jeffrey's party by a call from a neighbor exclaiming that a window was broken, a telephone dangled over the exterior wall and an ambulance had recently departed. my friend had slashed his wrists and with those wrists wrote a narrative in sweeping crimson strokes across most of the walls. it was addressed to his wife.

the sponge was red, my hands were red, the water in the bucket, red. the phone rang, i answered. i was told that jeffery was dead. i leaned against the wall and slid to the floor.. i sat in a state of blood zen. time was weightless.

days later, we gathered for the funeral in guerneville. i recall hearing "stairway to heaven" in the windowless parlor. the air was chilled, dark, damp and empty. andrei announced he had decided to learn harmonica. angry murmurs regarding the cosmetics pasted to jeffrey's quiet face rippled the shadows. strange rituals were at work.

much later, we waded across the sand where the russian river empties into the pacific. the sky and water were sharp and gray. a onshore wind propelled an endless current of sand over our feet and tracks. michelle could barely stand and at times, didn't. there were friends who knew jeffrey in michigan and closer to jeffrey than many were aware. i saw them on the perimeter weeping quietly. at water's edge, a box was passed. in it, a plastic bag with jeffrey's ashes and chips of bone. many of us dug into that bag, clutched our last touch of jeffrey miller, turned and flung him to sea. i felt the chips of bone as my fingers pressed into the ash. when i pitched those ashes west, an onshore gust delivered flakes into my nose and mouth. i recall the taste and sting. i shuddered then grinned. jeffrey wasn't fond of sentimentality.

weeks later, i lay in bed in southern california. the hour pushed toward sunrise. the windows remained dark. it was that hour of the wolf that magnifies the cracking and groans of a house. i was reading. the girl next to me was asleep. her eyes snapped open, unblinking. she was riveted to a corner near the ceiling across the room. her body stiffened. she was nearly rigid.

her voice was calm and even, she said "gil. jeff's here." she was silent for a moment. "he's come to say good bye. he says it's time to let go."

i have a direct and constant experience with mortality. i'm uncertain if this experience is unique or i'm simply more aware of it than most. at that instant, an amazing warmth and calmness saturated my being. an instant later, her body relaxed. she said that jeff was free now. her eyes closed and her breath was deep and even. during that moment and beyond sunrise, the grip of mortality was eased and my quiet grieving for jeffrey passed.

jeffrey's death was significant in many ways. his legacy as a poet is obvious and unfortunately brief. the loss to the universe of poetry cannot be understated. however, poetry is a vein that allows us to see the forces that fuel us. his poetic hesitations, revelations and confessions were like dyes that tracked the circulation within the soul. for some, his work was pure punk plasma.

jeffrey was a subterranean. many of us were and some remain, subterranean. his death was the death that subterraneans expect for themselves. we danced with that death. we taunted that death with different colored capes.

in the 1950's, during that era of grainy, existential black and white television william bendex was in a collapsed tunnel. after drilling into quicksand beneath the east river, oxygen was being sucked through a gaping crevice that refused to be plugged. the men threw sandbags, tools, machines, anything within grasp was pitched into that black wound. the void wouldn't be satisfied. seconds remained before the compression failed and everyone perished. bendex, eyes wide and heart full, glanced at his comrades and leaped into the gap. the hole closed behind.

for subterraneans, the void presents itself close up. it's contours are personal. consequently, one size fits all. jeffrey's passing filled that void. an era closed in his wake.

subterraneans navigate the margins beneath the radar. we surface at will. on that grainy, existential screen, bill bendix surfaced on the east river alive and muddy. i imagine jeffrey surfacing as well. across his face, that heart warming sneer aglow.

peace.

gil helmick

On January 4, 2009 at 1:18pm tom woolner wrote:
Like my friend Gil, who posted above, I was a friend of Jeff's. Our friendship started in Michigan, where we went to college together, to SF, and finally to Monte Rio. Reading the mail, the Pink Elephant, etc., you've nailed it pretty well. the chronology is a bit off - Jeff followed my girlfriend Ellen and I up to the river from SF, andwe moved there in 1971 - he came soon after.

I was at Jeff's birthday party that night, and I carry a lot of guilt - turne - sadness from what happened.

We had a cake, which had a baseball diamond with player/figures - the candle representing Jeff fizzled when it was lit.

Later that night, Jeff asked me to give him a ride home. He said--- will kill me, I've been flirting with his wife. well, he did. I said no, because I then live in the other direction, Sebastopol, and I thought I would get pulled over for drunk driving, and I was holding.

I realize now that what Pat said is true - if Jeff hadn't died that night, he would have died soon after. He lived on that edge that so many of us did, but he refused to get off it when some of us began a strategic retreat.

The next year my girlfriend Ellen went to Paris. ( had always thought that Jee was in love with her - I've learned since then, you can love more than one person at the same time). She threw a bouquet of flowers in the Seine for him.

Jeff showed up in my dreams for months afterwards, like many in my life who have passed to early. I am not surprised that his life has made it into legendary status among people who never knew him.

On January 7, 2009 at 1:07pm Peter Cavanaugh wrote:
Dave Standrich back in Michiganistan keeps turning me on to the most excellent finds, particularly such spectacular treats as “You Can’t Come Home Half-Way From The Bar” by Ian Daly.

So Jeffrey Miller went to Grand Blanc High.

Son-of-a-bitch!

That’s an exclamation of delight, not aspersion cast at Jeffrey.

“Iggy Pop, the Stones, the MC5, and the Velvet Underground?”

Just like that there Grand Blanc Radio Station.

On South Center Road.

With seventy acres of antenna field.

Where DJs parked for blow-jobs.

“Jeffrey died instantly, his heart impaled on the jagged metal of the roof’s armature.”

“He had his hand under her panties, she had his hand on his dick”

Son-of-a-bitch!

That’s a joyous, unlimited, envious salutation.

To Jeffrey.

And Rock ‘n Roll.

Lovingly Submitted in memory of Ron Ashton.

Peter Cavanaugh

Oakhurst, California

WildWednesday.com

MySpace.com/localdj

"When you realize that consciousness is constantly transforming, there’s no such thing as a person. There’s only the universe behaving as a person.”--Deepak Chopra--”Larry King Live”----January 5, 2009

On January 8, 2009 at 11:04am gil helmick wrote:
hello peter cavanaugh,

gil helmick here. i left an entry above.

i've never believed in the existence of time. if i did, i would speculate it exists to aid many of us in avoiding head on collisions.

i notice you live in oakhurst. the daughters i bred during the era in ian's story, were born along the russian river and raised in oakhurst.

the ride remains wild.

peace.

gil

On January 9, 2009 at 5:30pm John Ward wrote:
The last time I saw Jeffrey was in the fall of '70. We were on our way to a Van Morrison concert in Boston. What stands out in my memory is my wife (at the time) trying to pick out the tangles in his thick mat of hair in the back of the van along with a few other ex-pats of Grand Blanc. (Peter, I don't think I know you, but I know about the radio station).

Jeffrey's brother Kurt was my best friend as we grew up. Jeffrey was a typical older brother that loved giving us a hard time. Kurt's death was the first real loss that I ever had. I know it scarred Jeffrey, too. I don't know how much, if ever, he talked about it.

I remember distinctly when I heard about Jeffrey's death. I cried like a baby, not because we were that close but because I was thinking about his mother. How does one live after the death of her two oldest sons? The youngest son, Joel, lives in Seattle near his mother Marcella.

Ian's piece was (as mentioned in an earlier comment) very enlightening. Especially for me. I knew that Jeffrey was a special person, despite the fact he wasn't much fun to be around as a 10 year-old. I'm not a poetry critic, but the fact that his name still comes up after all these years means something. There's a part of me that would have loved to be near the Russian River during that era.

Thanks, Ian, for filling in the gaps for me. Keep up the good works.

John

On January 9, 2009 at 5:34pm John Ward wrote:
Just a correction.....the article was "very enlighghtening".

On January 29, 2009 at 8:21am Bruce Cheney wrote:
Ian Daly, I’m sorry we didn’t connect (I did respond to your email?) while you were working on this but it’s a good piece and I don’t know what I could have added. You captured that time well and I’ve been walking around the last few days thinking about Jeffery. There are a few things however. There are a lot of little, factual, errors in it but my memory is so suspect that I’m not confident to try and correct them and myth doesn’t depend on them anyway. But the cause of the accident, the speculation that “Demon” acted purposely I’m not sure needed to be included. I remember Andrei telling us after the memorial reading that he (“Demon”) confessed only to checking out the back seat and thus took his eyes off the road at the moment he hit that very dangerous “S” curve, causing the accident. I agree with Pat that whatever debt may have been incurred, has been paid. Another thing is this idea that Jeffery was a walking corpse waiting to happen. It’s convenient, it’s romantic, it fits the myth, but it isn’t true. That he was sensitive is certainly true and his and Michelle’s sometimes volatile relationship, his brother’s horrible death, the deaths of several close friends weighed on him but he didn’t court it. Jeffery had, in his own way, an incredible set of principles that he stuck to. He was a product of his times and lived as far off the official grid as he could. A lot of us took the core values of the Beats and 60s very seriously. It wasn’t an excuse to act irresponsibly into our late twenties, it was who we were. We grew-up in the suburbs and watched our parents lead their very dull lives and we weren’t going to do it. But there was no precedent to follow, we worked it out one day at a time. I’ve never had a long-term goal or plan in my entire life. I’ve simply drifted into things as they presented themselves. Michelle once broke up with Jeffery to follow a guy she met because he was going to give her “a picket fence and a Volvo.” Jeffery wasn’t going to do that. He simply couldn’t. Like many writers, he looked to the academy as a way to somehow skirt “serious” work and get enough money to allow him to write and hang-out. He went into a Master’s program as much for the student loans as he did for a degree. He said he simply wanted a “little T.A. job somewhere” but he badly failed his orals because he didn’t take it seriously. He just wouldn’t play. If it looks tawdry and doomed and slack on paper, it belies the sheer fun that we had. Jeffery was fun. So many people were devastated by his death because he brought so much to our lives. Finally you raise the question, if fact, the ultimate question, about Jeffery’s life and death. I’ve never heard the story about him lying about his age but the speculation that he was somehow aware of not being able to pull off his pose anymore is interesting. It’s the thing I haven’t been able to figure out in the past 30+ years although I reject the notion that he was going to grow-up and start wearing Dockers. But what was he going to do? When I left America 10 years ago, although it wasn’t clear until later, I left because I was sick of being reminded every single day about what I didn’t have, who I was supposed to be, how I was supposed to act at age 48. If you’re rich/famous in America, you’re “unconventional” or “boho’ but if you act the same way without the press, you’re “pathetic”? I had a vague, romantic notion that in Europe I wouldn’t be looked upon as an “aging poseur groping for the vestiges of [my] already-lost youth.” Which, of course, is someone else’s projection, someone who probably will end up in an MBA program someday, someone who seriously believes these life-as-box-score validations. But that shit is hard to live with and I compromised much more than Jeffery did. Maybe because I had a daughter at twenty-one or was infected with a very damaging strain of New England work ethic, but Jeffery was always going to hustle his way through without compromise. Jeffery had a creed he jokingly(??) lived by: “Absolutely refusing to learn from experience.” So, maybe in a way, he was doomed. Doomed by fate to be forever young.

On February 25, 2009 at 8:31pm gil helmick wrote:
i agree with bruce. i don't believe jefferey was attempting to manifest a death wish. he was too much of an existentialist for that. his sense of humor is testimony to that.

perhaps these considerations are how we attempt to influence pointless loss and tragedy.

hunce created a video of that included jefferey and most of us. does anyone out there have a copy?

On April 19, 2009 at 11:57am Geraldo Manchego wrote:
Good living article. As good living comments.

On August 1, 2009 at 7:29pm winter pat wrote:
where the fuck is bruce cheney? There's no baseball in Europe!

On February 14, 2010 at 2:21am Patricia M. Daly wrote:
In reading this piece, I have discovered both Jeffrey Miller and Ian Daly. Jeffrey I never met, never knew--though in reading Ian's essay and the comments on it, I feel as if I did/do know him. Ian, too, I have never met, though he is my second cousin. But in reading Ian's essay, I feel that I have begun to know and understand him and the blue-gene fabric that wraps around familial strangers like the mists around Jeffrey's cabin. I recognized my own losses, my own longings, in Ian's journey and was transfixed by his words: "Death is an incomplete circuit, an electric potential. It is the origin of fear and obsession" (C. S. Lewis wrote, in "A Grief Observed," that "grief feels so much like fear"); and "Having cancer was, in many ways, like taking a long nap and waking up feeling old and sad" (many afternoons since my husband's passing, I have nodded into a nap's narcotics only to wake drenched in dread of death and life--how can my husband be dead? How can I live without him?); and "I was a windblown gamete, dislodged from my lighter half." In Ian's essay I have found not my lighter half (he's waiting for me on the other side, and he's telling me not to rush, and he's urging me, in the words of the Eagles song, to "lighten up while I still can") but my writer-second- cousin, Ian Daly. Ian, I'm grateful that your words and images have introduced me to Jeffrey Miller and to you and have reintroduced me to myself and reminded me of the insoluble bond of family blood.

On May 6, 2010 at 1:43am Annie wrote:
I worked with Jeffrey at Hunces house in Caz and a few places on Freezeout in Duncans Mills. Enjoyed your story, perspective.

On May 9, 2010 at 7:50am rich rothley wrote:
great piece ian i met jeffery in michigan as he would show up occassionaly in the company of mmy best friends sister michele i was always struck by his open eyed view and incredable insight 1970 in kalamazoo there happen a major concert as we walked accross campus to attend thru some fairly heavy traffic jeff declared suddenly "its an event man!! traffic is backed up all the way to climax" the passing of kurt will always haunt me as the potential he held could never be expressed as with jeffs.............................................................................................................................................thanks for bring this incredable jeffery back to life for me one can only expect to get as ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,good as we......give rufus

On November 27, 2010 at 10:25am R. white wrote:
I knew Jeff well. He was one of my best friends back in Grand Blanc. We both graduated in the same class. We hung out together alot. We had english classes together and did a lot of creative writing. I knew that Jeff had died. I did not know the specifics. Another good friend of our told me of this website. I did not realize he was a famous poet. I knew his mom and his grandmother and girlfriend well. It saddens me to read some of the responses to his death. We played little league basball together.

On April 16, 2011 at 3:49pm Alexandra Ellen Appel wrote:
Good piece, a little weird, memories. I was there - personally tired of
the whole scene. I was The Poet along with Gail King, Marianne Ware
and a few others. I missed the party for which I am eternally grateful.
Michelle and I waitressed together at 'Rivers End', I loved her and Mary,
loved the men too but did not get the whole Jeffrey aura & Codescu
thing; happily never made it with either of them. A few years back
Andre asked me to read at Jeffery's memorial, I declined. I am the
women on the piano in Hunce's film and then reading in front of the
fountain with my young son and then husband, the very dead artist,
Doug Bremner.

Hello Bruce, hello Gil wherever you guys are. I have found memories
but would never want to re-live those days, I also loved both Glen and
Tammy. Crazy f'ed up hippies that we were. Still are for all I know.

I would like to be in touch with Michelle and Mary.

So it goes.

On April 19, 2012 at 2:03pm Star Cheney wrote:
Funny that I’m just seeing this article now. And coming across it randomly, no less. Jeffrey Miller was my god father, for lack of a more appropriate term... He was my father’s best friend. He used to tell me that he and my dad were like Bert and Ernie or Barney and Fred. My child mind immediately created a visual of my father as Fred Flintstone. Jeff was Barney, of course, given the blond hair and the smaller stature. It was hilarious. Even now, it makes me smile. They kind of acted like cave men. Brutish and vulgar. Like an x-rated version of the children’s cartoon: with Barney and Fred drinking beer and talking about girls and sex, which they did in droves, even in my 5 year-old presence. I remember sitting in between the two of them in the front seat of some American car, the kind with the front seat that spread across the width of the car. The music was on, there was always music. Loud music. And they were drinking and smoking and laughing. They were always laughing. And they were always going on and on about stuff I didn’t understand. The odd thing about this memory, to me, is how safe I felt and how happy. How loved. I remember riding in that same car with just Jeff and he would brag that he could do 5 things at once. 1- drive the car, 2 - read the paper (he would spread the newspaper across the steering wheel), 3 - drink beer (I would hold it for him while he spread out the paper), 4- smoke a cigarette, and 5 - talk to me! I remember laughing hysterically which only encouraged him to brag more. Jeffery was lots of things to lots of people but to me he was fun and happiness and joy. Whenever Jeffery and Michelle were around there was fun and laughter and music and dancing. We once staying up “all night” with them in our living room on Carl Street dancing and singing. I have always associated his death with the end of that happiness, joy and safety in my life. After he died my parents got divorced and my father and I moved up to “The Land” (just down the road from Jeffrey and Michelle’s cabin) and lived out his grief. I don’t know that we’ve ever talked about it that way but Jeffery’s death was absolutely a turning point. My dad always used to tell me not to be sad about Jeff, that he was up in heaven with a beer in one hand and a blond in the other and that he was watching over us. I remember thinking I wish he’d stayed and watched over me from down here. For me, the idea of nostalgia for that time/place (the Russian River in the 70’s) seems ludicrous. Even as a small child, I remember thinking that those people were fucking crazy. Perhaps it was that sentiment that got us children of the Russian River through to be the survivors we are. In any case, thank you for this article and I too would be interested in seeing the video. I think there must be some video out there too of that epic Easter egg hunt at Hunce’s Penis Palace. I’m sure all of us kids have that day burned into our memories as one bright spot. I’d love to see it if there is.

On June 16, 2012 at 10:38pm JoeJoe wrote:
Gracias Star

You hit it like Willie Horton

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Biography

Ian Daly lives in New York City and is senior writer for Details magazine. His work has also appeared in Esquire and the New York Times.

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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