What I Read (For Cheryl)
Cheryl’s memorial was yesterday. More than two hundred people attended, brought food, and comforted each other, and fifteen people read some of their own thoughts and some of Cheryl’s work.
I hosted the event. It was the hardest reading I’ve ever done. I felt like I called on more of my tantra and energy/space holding abilities more than I used my reading host skills, though both of course were present. In putting together the line-up, I thought a lot about how much Cheryl has taught me about hosting readings, stage presence, how to order it, how to keep it moving, what to say and how to banter between readers. I learned so much in such a short time, she really knew what she was doing.
I had a pretty strict script so as not to babble, which, if you’ve ever seen me host a reading, you know I can tend to do. So here’s the part that I read.
Hello everyone. Thank you for being here at Dixon Place to celebrate Cheryl B.
We’re all here because we knew Cheryl, because she touched us in some way. Some of Cheryl’s accomplishments are listed in the chapbook/program, but we all know that she was widely anthologized, created three reading series in New York City in the last ten years, and performed all over the US, UK and Canada.
I’ve known Cheryl since I moved to New York in 2005. She was one of the first people I met in the literary performance circles. We kept being booked for the same readings, and eventually became friendly, then friends. She read at my chapbook release party in 2007, we started working together in 2009, and then started a reading series, Sideshow: the Queer Literary Carnival, together in 2010. I was there throughout her diagnosis of Hodgkin’s lymphoma last November, through the chemo treatment, which I even accompanied her to (once), and through her hospitalization.
What has struck me consistently in thinking about which story to tell about Cheryl here has been the transformation which happened after she was diagnosed. Cheryl had a dark, cynical sense of humor, and was private, often feeling alienated. But when she truly needed help from her friends and her larger community, you all—we—surprised her by offering up our support, our pies, our cars for rides, our wallets for Fresh Direct gift cards, our time, and our prayers.
I saw how much it meant to her that everyone rallied, throwing spelling bee fundraisers, offering research, and sending emails of support. Cheryl opened up and took in that love in a way that I’d never seen her do before.
Kelli told me that at the end, when she and Cheryl were doing some woo-woo aspirations that clearly were Kelli’s idea, Cheryl chose to say “I am thankful for my community,” and she didn’t even roll her eyes.
More than anything else, I’m so glad this event is an opportunity to get all of us together, all of us who loved and cared for Cheryl, and who love and care for Kelli, to look around the room and acknowledge what a community ourpouring of love looks like.
Tonight, you’ll hear some of her work read by some artists, writers, and friends, from Cheryl’s brother, and a few videos of Cheryl herself.
— Readers —
Thank you to all the readers for coming and being here today.
I’d like to conclude by reading one of my favorite poems, which has been a comfort to me lately. You’ll notice it’s not in Cheryl’s style, but I’d like to offer it up as a prayer, in whatever way that means to you.
The Summer Day by Mary Oliver
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
Thank you all for being here. Thank you Dixon Place, thank you to the volunteers who helped us set up and will help us clean up, thank you United Stages and Kathleen Warnock for the beautiful program/chapbooks. Thanks to Genne and Bevin for helping to coordinate this event, thank you Kelli for your beautiful heart and friendship, to all of us.
There is a new writer’s fund set up in Cheryl’s name through the Astraea Foundation; you can donate on your way out. When there are more events to raise funds for the Cheryl B. Fund, you can find out about them on wtfcancerdiaries.com.
You are also welcome to take a book from Cheryl’s collection, we have a donation hat next to it if you’d like to contribute.
And please remember to support each other, tonight and ongoing.
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