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The Immortalist Manifesto

in memory of Richard E. Lee

In a dream an old teacher tells me,
"I'm in trouble with the school system
because I believe we are immortal."

I wake up stunned. In the morning,
metaphysics wash off in the shower,
but not love for the body's
baroque nooks and clefts,
for sneezes, even for belly growls--
the soul's helpless love
for the body's animal forgiveness.

"The body is our unconscious,"
Jung said, or if he didn't,
I'm sure that's what he meant.

But my English professor
didn't mean it this way.
He lived in the immortal
country of the mind.
His once warned me,
this elf in a graying halo
of strawberry curls,
turning severe like a Roman statue:
"If you don't polish what you have,
I see all those treasures
falling by the wayside."

I had to dream harder, more slowly.
And I dreamed I'm teaching statistics,
the first class, and who enters--
my grandmother Veronika,
smiling, with a notebook,
rosy-cheeked and plump,
"looking like a doughnut in butter,"
as she herself used to say.
I wonder what sense it makes
for her to study this dry subject,
especially since she is dead.

But no subject
is too difficult or boring
for her who was taken
out of school in the fourth grade,
and put to work in a factory.
She's going to college at last,
wants to learn chemistry, physics,
music, biology--
wants all that has been denied.

She sits in the front row.
Her eyes are wild for it.

2002 Joanna Warwick

Note about this poem: Joanna Warwick was a student of Richard E. Lee's at CSULB. On May 25, 2002, in an e-mail to an acquaintance, Joanna writes: "...I happen to have taken classes from Richard back when he taught at Cal State Long Beach. This morning I wrote a poem largely inspired by a dream I had about him; then I decided to look him up on the Web. How sad that this amazing person is no longer with us. I'll remember him with great affection."