My friend and mentor Marvin Bell passed away last night. He was surrounded by his family. The stereo was playing Chet Baker’s “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To.” He passed peacefully, surrounded by the people and music he loved.
I met Marvin while I was a student at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. He was a tough Jew from the Bronx, Army veteran, jazz musician, a great and widely recognized American poet, and the teacher of many Pulitzer Prize Poetry winners. He was my thesis supervisor and my advocate. I was a blue collar veteran with a chip on my shoulder amongst the children of the privileged in the toughest writing program in the country. Marvin saw something in me and nurtured it. He became a spiritual father and a deeply loved friend.
Over the years we traded poetry, letters, stories and adventures. He was a voice of compassion and reason for me. He was a wise and earthy man who relished the challenge of teaching an art that many consider unteachable. He and his amazing wife Dorothy always provided a bed and a meal when I showed up unexpectedly as wanderers are prone to do.
Marvin told me privately of his diagnosis and his decision to let it run its course. I respect his way of saying goodbye. I sent him a voice message in which I related my experience with the afterlife during a near death experience. I like to think he listened to it, laughed, and went back to sleep. We said our farewells cleanly and in the fashion our friendship had evolved — as random as the wind blowing leaves into a beautiful shape deep in the forest, surrounded by ancient trees.
Fare well, old friend. You are much loved and much missed. Those of us who were privileged to call you friend will keep your memory alive.