In Memory of Victor Martinez


Peter Orner remembers his friend, the late poet and novelist Victor Martinez.


This, not graveyard roses, is my gift;
And I won’t burn sticks of incense:
You died as unflinchingly as you lived,
With magnificent defiance.

– Anna Akhmatova,
“In Memory of Mikhail Bulgakov”

I am not a poet and this is not a gift. When you fell down in the parking lot in front of the free acupuncture place you no longer had the strength to be embarrassed, and it wouldn’t have been your style anyway. If it had been me who’d fallen, if it had been me who’d been too weak to take a single more step, if it had me on the ground on that bright, ordinary October day, you wouldn’t have blinked. You’d have shrugged off my apologies and my shame at being such an inconvenience, and pulled me right up. When you fell I hesitated. I looked at you on the ground as if you down there was something I needed to remember, as if you were already gone, and when I finally did yank you by the arm pits, you didn’t mention it. You asked how far the car was. You said, ‘Lets get hot dogs.’ It’s a lie when I say that I wish it had been me on the pavement, the sort of easy lie you detested. I wish it had been me on the pavement. At least you’ll know I’m thinking of you now, today, another October, which even you would concede isn’t nothing. Damnit it, Vic, at least give me this: I wish the car had been further and that we were still walking towards it.

Peter Orner is the author of two novels, two story collections (Little, Brown), and the editor of two oral histories (Voice of Witness/ McSweeney's/ Verso). His latest book is Am I Alone Here?, an essay collection published in November, 2016 by Catapult with illustrations by Eric Orner. A new book of oral history set in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and co-edited with Dr. Evan Lyon, will be published by Voice of Witness/ Verso, in January, 2017. Peter Orner currently teaches at the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers as well as at San Francisco State University where he is currently chair of the Creative Writing Department. More from this author →