Since they call for such different perspectives, I will post here about the memorial events themselves, and separately about the travel there and back.
I rode with Barnaby to my parents' Vermont home, joining the many people who were arriving, including my cousin Mike who lives in Taiwan. Friends were being put up on various couches in the house and with neighbors.
On Friday was the opening of Flo’s memorial show. There were works by other artists and by Flo, reconstructed by Brian and Sue; there was an excellent turnout of people including some I knew from long ago. In addition to some of the art being beautiful tributes, there were moving tributes in poetry; reminding me of how I had about five minutes notice to give my high school graduation speech, I was asked to read a poem I’d never seen before. I don’t know how it went, but I did that.
Saturday was the day to bury Flo’s ashes. We hope it was an improvised graveside ceremony done as best was possible. A big group gathered, there were more moving readings, and the task fell to me to put the cremation box, a sailors’ box, into the ground, on my parents’ land, surrounded by the baby trees of the orchard that Flo wanted. Earth was put back over the box, and we took the ashes that hadn’t fit into the box, from the vase where they were held, and spread them at the base of the trees. I was choked up, but a question I hold within myself is whether I've cried in a proper way.
There were catered sandwiches and other food, and people stayed through the day and into the night. The people who collaborated with Flo put together a shrine in the wooded lower part of my parents' land; I went there and had my first look at Flo's studio space, only developed in the last few years.
So people showed their love and sorrow; it's so difficult for me to take. I offer a link to my photo album. I also offer Sue's album. It's best to conclude with this beautiful tribute, composed by my mother and read by my father at the show opening:
Flo’s element was air. He literally sculpted it, capturing it in bold inflatables that evoked the spaces in our dreams, the secret realms of cats and children. In a statement composed for his San Francisco show six years ago, he said:
“I sculpt spacious negatives, in addition to forming the exteriority of the architectural object. I animate the forms with air pressure to enhance their spiritual effect. If something breathes, responds to external forces, yet has a will of its own, in some sense it is alive. Or is it possessed?...” He added in a footnote, “I must stress the anima part of the word ‘animate’, from the Latin word meaning soul….”
The other three elements inform Flo’s work and life as well: water that persists both as a recurrent theme and in his persona of the sailor who submits himself to the power and mercy of the sea; fire that almost claimed his life and Brian’s in Baltimore ten years ago. Back then, once we knew they were safe, we came almost to think of it as a trial, like those the lovers Pamina and Tamino confront in The Magic Flute. Today I know it as the purifying element that reduced Flo’s vivid body to a little box of ash.
And Earth. Flo passionately believed that humans could save the planet, that he personally could enrich and coax the soil into yielding food for his family and his Haitian community. But just below the earth’s surface, last January 12, Damballah, the great serpent, the ancient force underlying the earth’s flawed and brooding structure, uncoiled, twisted, thrust up his head, killed a quarter of a million Haitians. Ended Flo’s life in an instant. Shattered all of us. And so in death Flo teaches us that there is a fifth element, one that we did not recognize at once. That element is love.
For love of Flo we have somehow gone beyond ourselves, beyond our human limits and expectations. I think of Zaka and Susan’s desperate and heroic vigil in Jacmel; of Brian’s commitment to Haiti’s future; of the extraordinary art that has already been made in Flo’s memory. Of artists who will emerge from ruined Caribbean towns and from Vermont, or New Mexico, or rural Italy. All the places, all the lives Flo touched, and touching, changed.
We have become Flo’s heirs. And tomorrow we bequeath his mortality to the earth he nourished, to the young apple orchard friends planted to honor him. The poet James Merrill who knew Flo as a child once wrote, “The soul is memory.” Remember that. Remember Flo.