Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Farewell, Peter Christopher

"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.


  1. Anonymous3:37 PM

    Singing in my Difficult Mountain

    Helot for what time there is
    in the baptist hegemony of death.
    For what time there is summer,
    island, cornice. Weeping
    and singing of what declines
    into the earth. But of having,
    not of not having. What abounds,
    Amazed morning after morning
    by the yielding. What times
    there are. My fine house
    that love is.

    Jack Gilbert from "Monolithos"

  2. Anonymous10:45 AM

    After Love by Jack Gilbert

    He is watching the music with his eyes closed.
    Hearing the piano like a man moving through the woods thinking by feeling. The orchestra up in the trees, the heart below, step by step. The music hurrying sometimes, but alwasy returning to quiet, like a man remembering and hoping. It is a thing in us, mostly unnoticed. There is somehow a pleasure in the loss. In the yearning. The pain going this way and that. Again the never. Slowly. No undergrowth. Almost leaving. A humming beauty in the silence. The having been. Having had. And the man knowing all of him will come to the end.

  3. Anonymous9:37 AM

    I was, indeed, one of the fortunate to have attended Peter Christopher's class for a semester. My heart and mind were emptied at his passing. The man with an ever-present smile, encouraging word, and a flip in his hair is gone but his brilliance and light remains in those he touched in his time. The world has been denied his presence. Thank God his works remain.

  4. I googled a former writing professor hoping to find an address or phone number so that I could write to him and found this blog post.

    I was lucky enough to have him for 3 writing courses and I miss his amazing sense of humor and encouragement.

    Thank you for the stories about him.

  5. Anonymous8:28 PM

    I miss my beloved friend each and every day. God, I loved him, his heart, his soul, that voice. I still hear his sound. I am grateful for his words.


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