I'm not sure about the title of the piece. I remember a Rolling Stone article that came out around the time of Dead Poets. It was a cover story, and the picture was of Robin with a dress shirt and tie pulled up over the bottom half of his face, and a very serious look in his eyes. The caption was, "Robin Williams: The Tears of a Clown," and that's where I took the inspiration for the title. I don't know if it sounds too schlocky or not, but at the same time, I think it does represent him in a way. Sometimes, my friend Ray said to me when we were talking after we found out, people get so used to you being funny, that when you aren't in a funny mood, or you have a heavy sadness weighing on you, people act offended, and you learn to play the role they want from you, no matter what's going on inside.
This is my poem for Robin Williams, with all my love, for the impact he had on my life.
"Elegy for a Sad Clown"
Monday night, Greenwich Village,
sitting in a gay piano bar
(which may be a redundancy),
and the man who gets up to sing
dedicates his song to the memory of Robin Williams,
and we are sure we have heard him wrong.
Surely a different Robin Williams.
But Ray pulls up the screen on his cell phone.
looks at it blankly,
turns it to me and there is his face:
Robin Williams Dead from Apparent Suicide.
I was standing at the top of the stairs
in my freshman dorm
when my best friend told me
police had found Kurt Cobain’s body
in a room above his garage.
I was home alone in my grad school apartment,
CNN playing in the background,
when the anchor showed the aerial views
of the Parisian tunnel
and declared it the place
where Princess Diana had died.
I was on break during a summer class,
teaching in a computer lab,
when the headline on the news site
refreshed to say Michael Jackson was dead.
And I was sitting in a Village piano bar
just off Christopher Street--
the bar that Jack on Will & Grace
had filmed his “Just Jack” performances in for the show--
when a tall, Italian man with an operatic voice
too refined for the Broadway plays
he likely dreamed of getting into,
announced that Robin Williams had died.
And the song that followed is forgotten.
But that feeling that something in the world is missing
is still very much remembered,
very much there.
Six year old boy saying “Na-noo, Na-noo”
like Mork from Ork,
my friend Kathy imitating the callout from Good Morning Vietnam
when she did the daily announcements in high school,
sitting beside my grandparents
the one time we went to a movie theater
and watching Mrs. Doubtfire dip her face in a cake
to preserve her secret identity,
watching Dead Poets Society
and knowing that was the kind of teacher I wanted to be.
These are the things Robin Williams meant to me,
seeing all along that the scene when he cries
for poor, lost Neil in Dead Poets
was closer to the reality of his life
than the manic outbursts on Letterman--
seeing it in his eyes
and knowing you can do your best
to be OK anyway.
When I climb onto my desk in a Composition classroom,
when I ask my students why they rigidly take the same seats every day,
when I tell my writers to do what they want,
but to never allow it to be ordinary,
I think of you, Robin.
Don’t say, “Goodbye.”
Say , “Na-noo, na-noo.”