“Sunlight pouring across your skin, your shadow
Flat on the wall.
The dawn was breaking the bones of your heart like twigs.
You had not expected this,
The bedroom’s gone white, the celestial light
Pummeling you in a stream of fists.”
I had been through it before, waiting by a hospital bed while a dear friend lay in a coma, wondering if he’d ever resurface.
Johnny Byrne, Black 47’s soundman, didn’t make it, but this time there was a happier outcome. Chris Kelly, poet and college professor, awoke eventually and with the help of his wife, Ally, and his many friends has slowly but surely returned to us.
Many of you know Chris; some of you have been touched by his extraordinary kindness and humanity. I first met him in Paddy Reilly’s in the early 90’s with a crew of visiting Clare men. He was studying at NYU at the time. I can still remember his eager face, full of life and so thrilled to be part and parcel of New York City.
Though bursting with ideas he was equally interested in yours; you only had to mention a dream or problem and he was right back at you with some suggestion or solution. It wasn’t just barroom talk either; soon after you would receive a phone call informing you of a train of events he’d set in motion only waiting for you to jump aboard.
He became a professor at NYU and was beloved by his students. In his official capacity he escorted groups to Ireland where he introduced the students to other writers and immersed them in the cultural life of the country. Who knows how many have nurtured these links, but none will ever go thirsty in Dublin for lack of knowledge of pubs with a first class pint.
Chris has turned his hand to many kinds of writing but it’s his poetry that inspires. As Miles Davis said, “I could look at a great picture and come up with a thousand musical ideas but none of them meant anything until I found my voice.”
Chris found his voice early on and, despite the horror he has been through, he still retains it.
“Here is the known hand again remembering silently
Lifting the rafters of shadow into an opening of sky
Where the hidden children we were are greeting those
We've yet to become…”
Step by painful step, he’s fought his way back until a year after his accident, he’s walking, laughing, joking with friends, and chomping at the bit to get back to teaching in his beloved Columbia and NYU.
But as with every Traumatic Brain Injury there’s a ways to go and miles to be traveled, and health insurance only covers so much.
Chris is a proud and obstinate man, the very thought of pity or patronization would be like a knife in his heart; in fact, he’ll probably kick my butt when he reads this column. But it will be worth it for there are bills to be paid and the man is too damned valuable to New York and our community to be denied a full recovery because of a lack of some small change.
Take a look at this site http://www.giveforward.com/friendsofchrisbarrettkelly to see some more of his writing and the problems he faces. I’m sure you know how it is, the thought counts - knowing that people are rooting for you makes a difference on the bad days.
Chris has been there for so many people – students, writers, musicians, the man and woman on the street. He’s beaten the odds and it’s nothing short of bloody marvelous that he’s back with us again.
“You raised your hand to your face as if
To hide, the pink fingers gone gold as the light
Streamed straight to the bone,
As if you were a small room enclosed in glass
With every speck of dust illuminated.
The light is no mystery,
The mystery is that there is something to keep the light
From passing through.”