"From the darkness, a bird's whistle rouses him."
That's the opening sentence of Flight, a lovely story by Peter Christopher, who died last Tuesday of cancer. I only met Pete on two occasions. Once, he was my teacher—the revered friend of my mentor, Tom Spanbauer. He and Tom team-taught a writing workshop at Haystack back in 1992 I think it was. Us Dangerous Writing disciples had heard all about Peter from Tom. He'd share letters from him at the Thursday night workshop nights, and all of us not-yet-published students were tickled, in a sort of star-fucker way, that we got to hear personal correspondence from the desks of these famous guys. Two real writers who had books in bookstores and inside jokes about Gordon Lish and Columbia and all sorts of literati scuttle-butt. So when Peter came out to teach a week with Tom, it was like the Stones and the Grateful Dead and we all had front row seats.
The second time I met Peter, he had just married one of the Dangerous Writing devotees, Carolyn Altman. There' some love triangle dish about Tom and Peter and Carolyn that I don't know the details about, but what I do know is, Carolyn and Peter took off for the East Coast, and stopped speaking with Tom and that there was a sadness whenever Peter's name came up.
I heard that Peter Christopher died when I attended Tom's 20th Anniversary of Faraway Places reading last week. It was, what Tom (and the French) would call, the sous-conversation of the evening. A whisper through the crowd. Tom addressed his friend's death at the reading, fresh as it was. He dedicated the reading to Peter, and sort of choked up, and it was a bit like those Thursday nights and the letters, but without the laughs and the starry-eyed envy.
Peter told me that first time I met him that he kept spitting out stories, writing at a fast and frenzied pace, because he suspected that he would die before he could get it all out on paper.
And, as if via objective correlative, the last line of Peter's story, Flight goes, "From that height, he sees the woman and the child walking together under the far trees, their slipping away from him as his own life has--and that is the moment he lets go, throwing himself higher, farther, into the light that will burn him clean."
God bless you, Peter Christopher.