A duet for Rex Copeland

In 2016, a Discovery channel drama aired about a friend’s murder. I didn’t participate in it, and was surprised when I finally did watch it. My feelings about the tragedy are complicated. Even so, the first few minutes of the film reminded me of great beauty in my life.

I’m older – 27 years older – and I see things through older eyes. I believe that the living have it much harder than the dead.

I had to decide many years ago to straighten up and fight for beauty and joy. The drama took me back to the tears, but not to hell. The space in my heart is cavernous now and different this time. This time, my heart is filled with the beauty of philia ( brotherly love).

The dead and the living make their peace in different places. We both must abandon the world we inhabited together and chart separate courses.

I was 20 when Rex was killed. In 1989, I took the poem “High Flight”* and mixed it with a lyric from Les Miserables. It formed a duet between the two of us. This week I reworked it and post it below. (*Written in 1941 at John Magee, who died at the age of 19.)

I intend to convey the idea that in 1989 Rex flew away. I tried to maintain a connection but could not and descended into a deep grief. I searched for and found beauty and hope. In 2016, we are in different places. You can locate me on GPS. It would be a category mistake to try to locate him.

I am at peace, and I suppose he is as well.


Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,

(“Come with me, where chains no longer bind you)

And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;

(All your grief, at last, at last behind you…”)

Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth

(Rex, I cannot follow you. I grasp air )

Of sun-split clouds, –and done a hundred things

(As I descend into the  Acheron. )

You have not dreamed of –Wheeled and soared and swung

(Battered by splintered wreckage and sea foam)

High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there

(My brine-soaked clothes pull me to Hell’s rivers)

I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung

(My lungs fill with the underworld’s tears;)

My eager craft through footless halls of air…

(My blue lips refuse to ‘Hallelujah.’)

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue

(But one day, I’m washed into a fresh spring)

I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace

(So clear that even death cannot muddy it.*)

Where never lark or even eagle flew –

(And warm sun welcomes me to my new home.)

And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod

(Somewhere, the clouds conspire as if they)

The high untrespassed sanctity of space,

(Were a veil. And the darkness covers)

Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

(The garden that even I abandoned.)


“The eternal fountain hidden away…so pellucid it can never be muddied” – from a poem by Juan de la Cruz in Seamus Heaney’s “Station Island, XI”. Thanks to Malcolm Guite for sharing this poem and insight in his book Word in the Wilderness.