For James Baldwin

For James Baldwin

The air snapped and crackled. December weather. The white Christmas mini lights were already lit in New York. It was a funny day, this eighth of December. Overnight one had got accustomed to the American flag and the hammer and sickle entwined on television. It reminded me of my childhood in this city, the World’s Fair, and World War II. In the  media Russia and America were positioned as Allies; it was as if nothing had happened in between—to me or the world. Maybe we were living through historic times. This afternoon Reagan and Gorbachev were signing their nuclear arms agreement.

In New York, far from the parties in Washington, there was a sense of things ending. At noon in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, on Amsterdam Avenue up near Columbia University, near the border between white New York and Harlem, near the streets Garcia Lorca wrote about in his time in New York, James Baldwin was being buried. He was sixty-three years old. He had had a heart attack a few years ago; after an awful year of stomach cancer he died in Saint Paul de Vence.

...