April 2016

Eulogy for Alvin Frost

It is National Poetry Month. I am indulging myself with one of my favored poets and poems by Audre Lorde. This was written in the late 1970s, published in 1978 by W. W. Norton & Co. It requires no commentary from me.

To the poets and poems that have preserved me.

Audre Lorde
Artist unattributed

Eulogy for Alvin Frost


Black men bleeding to death inside themselves
inside their fine strong bodies
inside their stomachs
inside their heads
a hole
as large as a dum-dum bullet
eaten away from the inside
death at 37.

Windows are holes to let in the light
in Newark airport at dawn I read
of your death by illumination
the carpets are dark and the windows are smoky
to keep out the coming sun
I plummet down through a hole in the carpet
seeking immediate ground for my feet to embrace
my toes have no wisdom no strength
to resist
they curl in a spasm of grief
of fury uprooted.
It is dawn in the airport and nothing is open
I cannot even plant you a tree
the earth is still frozen
I write a card saying
machines grew the flowers I send
to throw into your grave.

On occasion we passed in the hallway
usually silent and hurried but fighting
on the same side.
You congratulate me on my latest book
in a Black Caucus meeting
you are distinguished
by your genuine laughter
and you might have been my long lost
second grade seat-mate named Alvin
grown into some other magic
but we never had time enough
just to talk.


From an airplane heading south
the earth grows slowly greener
we pass the first swimming pool
filled with blue water
this winter is almost over
I don’t want to write a natural poem
I want to write about the unnatural death of a young man at 37
eating himself for courage in secret
until he vanished
bleeding to death inside.
He will be eulogized in echoes
by a ghost of those winters
that haunt morning people
wearing away our days like smiling water
in southern pools
leaving psychic graffiti
clogging the walls of our hearts
carving out ulcers inside our stomachs
from which we explode
or bleed to death.


The day after your burial
John Wade slid off his chair
onto the carpet in the student cafeteria
and died there on the floor
between Abnormal Psychology and a half-finished
cup of black coffee.
Cafeteria guards rushed him out
the back door between classes
and we never knew until a week later
that he had even been ill.
I am tired of writing memorials to black men
whom I was on the brink of knowing
weary like fig trees
weighted like crepe myrtle
with all the black substance poured into earth
before earth is ready to bear.
I am tired of holy deaths
of the ulcerous illuminations the cerebral accidents
the psychology of the oppressed
where mental health is the ability
to repress
knowledge of the world’s cruelty.


Dear Danny who does not know me
I am
writing to you for your father
whom I barely knew
except at meetings where he was
by his genuine laughter
and his kind bright words
Danny son of Alvin
please cry
whenever it hurts
remember to laugh
even when you do battle
stay away from coffee and fried plastic
even when it looks like chicken
and grow up
black and strong and beautiful
but not too soon.
We need you
and there are so few



My business partner, John, and I both love the casting process. Though he favors bronze, I am an iron lover, enjoying the rough, unrefined, elemental qualities of working in Fe, iron, ferrum, atomic number 26.

CastingMolten iron flowing into the crucible

Iron is the element that makes up most of what we know of as Earth, of even stars, for that matter. Without iron, our human bodies would not function properly. Too much iron and our biology is equally compromised.

SkimmingRemoving the impurities

My life as alchemist has me less interested in turning dross into gold and greater inclination toward understanding the facts and metaphors of metals themselves.

Even my surname, Stern, which in its German origins means star, leads me to the elemental. Maybe I am, as a star myself, simply incapable of veering from iron and from the poetry and the prose of the Periodic Table of Elements- a document that ought to be as familiar to each of us as the Constitution or Bill of Rights for what it reveals of the most indispensable connections.

​Slag - "Stony waste matter separated from metals during the smelting or refining of ore."​

The iron pour that introduced me to my business partner, and catapulted me into the cosmos, and toward building the better athanor, and begat the transformation of passion, artistry, and skill, into a business, also connects me to others who not only have the passion to create but to alter, heal, and look inward at the same moment that they point outward. When those of us magnetized by iron reconnect, at our annual gathering of the tribe, it is deeper than a simple opportunity to make art for a week. There is history and growth, understanding, support, a rich exchange of interior and exterior stimuli. We become new in gathering and reviewing where we have been. Not unlike analysis, keeping a notebook, or the best of relationships.

Casting (to defile Sherwood Anderson) is not to make saleable objects but to save yourself.


Images included are from the annual Mesalands Community College Iron Pour by Claudette Jocelyn Stern