R.I.P. Peter Conti (aka Peter of the Earth)

Peter of the Earth
Peter of the Earth

I hadn’t seen him in a few years, drifting apart when we moved to Virginia and never reconnecting after we returned, and had no idea he was sick, much less dying.

He missed his 30th birthday (today, Saturday) by one day.

I’ll always remember the carefree Peter who let it all hang out when the music was playing and he was surrounded by friends. The Peter in the picture here (at the National Poetry Slam in Chicago, 1999, courtesy of David Huang), who stood by me as a friend that entire season when ‘a little bit louder’ was born into a community divided. The Peter who could go toe-to-toe with me in a debate without ever letting it get personal, because in the end, we were fighting for the same thing.

The Peter who introduced me to a kind of spirituality that didn’t demand a church or a bible or any outward symbols, simply a desire to connect with something larger than one’s self and draw strength from it.

The Peter we always joked about being my gay twin brother, and who, despite his own insecurities about his poetry and his performances, inspired me every single time he got on stage. The Peter who brought me to full tears three different times with one of those performances, more than any other poet I know.

The Peter who had a way with words and never, I think, truly realized how special and talented he was.

Not even death can take that Peter away from me. Or from anyone else who knew him well enough to call him friend.

Rest in peace, Peter.

And if there’s anyone who could figure out a way to come back now and then and watch over his friends, I believe you’d be the one to pull it off. So I’ll be looking for you every time the music’s playing loud enough to get me on the dance floor; for that sign that it’s okay to let loose sometimes and simply enjoy the moment.

Thank you for your friendship. You’ll be missed, but never forgotten.

The Angelic
Angel joined my 8th grade class seven months to graduation I hated him pegged him the type to pick fights with buck toothed patos like me -but he didn’t Instead, he dated my best friend Victoriabecame my friend tooand in two months had mastered the racket of the lunchroom Spit circleslapping cards and smashing fingersof boys not quick enough to grab the empty pileI’d smile knowing each winshifted “cool” to a new elite He didn’t speak much of his being a foster-childhis mother-or brother who made it to the home of a social worker. Baring his light like across, he kept a sunlit disposition long enough for Ms. Valdez, the ESL teacher,to find him too late to save or sooth scars incurred by the system. Carving a fewmore when she decided to send him back. final days lapsed-stitching sunsets to our chestleaking candlelit eternitythrough stretched liquid waxwaiting for the wick to burn The night before he was scheduled to leave he came to my house. We didn’t plan on his staying. My parents had gone shopping and told us he should be gone by the time they got back. Defying them, I convinced my siblings to do the same, help me hide him-splaying bellies on the floor as we played spit. He was quiet. I remember it was a Tuesday because “Who’s the Boss” was on and in my recent self-liberation from several years of television restriction, I scheduled my life around ABC’s evening line-up. My parents got home and I made Angel hide behind the bureau. Bringing up a box of Ring Dings for our evening meal. Leaving a pillow, blanket, and enough room to turn in his sleep, I climbed in my bed resigned to retire with pre-recorded laughter shadowing the room from a 12″ black and white screen. But beneath syncopated chuckles I heard whimpers. Rushing to the bureau I found Angel crying, refusing to let me console him. Demanding I didn’t touch him-that I didn’t love him-that no-one did. “How do you put some-one you love behind a dresser,” he said. The metaphor would take ten years to decipher. Though prematurely making sense of it at the time, not fearing my father’s heavy hand and belt, being bigger than Angel, I wrapped my arms around his flailing body, laying him to rest on my bed. Chest touching chest, his anger subsided. We decided to plan escape. As sleep took him from me I felt blood surging between fingers and legs. Jumping up I curled up in the big furry chair at the foot of my bed, ashamed of the erection I concealed when he questioned my abrupt departure. “What’s wrong?” he asked. “Nothing,” I replied. “Just planning.” I watched him sleep. Waking him when sun burning through the window wasn’t enough to stir consciousness. My parents already left for work. So the plan was, we’d go back to school to tell Victoria and she could come too if she wanted. Only, thing is, one of Ms. Valdez’s students saw us from the school bus and told her. She had ample time to prepare for our arrival. They caught us in the schoolyard The Principal, Police, Ms. Valdez waiting taking him kicking buck teeth ripping clenched hands that stopped us from breaking loose arms locked for one last pact to stay together if only in the mind. 11 years past and I have moved back to my childhood home. A hand-drawn portrait withthese words sit on an alter to Shango template poems I never wrote or finished.Candles cast shadows on his image, some nights When I think about the Angel I’ve becomethe angels I’ve replaced him withor what if we would have run in the other directionBlack wings fleshing out metaphorswondering what happens when I finally figure it out.Why I can’t seem to love like that againWhy I believe I canInnocentAnd eternal Life is a flame on liquid waxA CD scratchedon an angle of songWaiting for the wick to burnMaybe We all want to be towering infernosPray flame catches something before we dieHe is still flickering in my eyesIAm burning on air (c) 2000, peter of the earth

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3 thoughts on “R.I.P. Peter Conti (aka Peter of the Earth)

  1. THank you so much. My early memories of Peter are connected to the early days in the bar. The two of you looking so much like versions of yourselves. Each needing a piece of the other to move on.
    He was beautiful, yeah? Lovely. Just when I think I have a hold on all of this. I can feel him preparing to return in odd ways. I know all of this life and death and logical but despite all that. Despite the wind that carries him now. I just want him back. I just want Peter dancing in front of me.
    THank you for posting that poem. I can’t find any but it’s definitely the one I wanted to hear.

    Guy, I love you crazy. Please know this. I’ll see you soon.


  2. Peter and I went to the high school of performing arts then later reconnected when we worked together at McGraw-Hill we continued to keep in touch when I relocated to GA and I often think of him and still to this day can’t believe he’s gone… I often think of his mom and siblings ESP. After Sandy since they live in Far Rockaway. always in my thoughts my friend you were taken way tool soon.


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