Benj Sullivan-Knoff WBEZ/file
Benj Sullivan-Knoff WBEZ/file


Poet Benj Sullivan-Knoff, 18, is a senior at Northside College Prep; he competed in Louder Than a Bomb 2011 representing his high school.

His piece, Eulogy, explores Benj’s struggle to reconcile the different ways of remembering his grandpa.

Though everyone knows the points are not the point – the point is the poetry – congratulations to Northside College Prep, who was chosen as one the four Teams advancing to the Final round of the 2011 competition which celebrated over 600 young writers.

Eulogy by Benj Sullivan-Knoff


Do you remember that summer day
many years ago
in August
on Torch Lake?

You took us in your boat.

The waters were sharp as ice
and cold;
they sent shudders at the dip in the lake of my toes;
the hard slanted glint of the sun pierced;
but we were safe—
Andrew, Emily, me—
in that rusty scrap you recklessly called ship
you protected us,
steering that Mayan rudder,
the iron hull slicing through blue crescents like smoke,
the engine rumbling deep like your laughter.


I don’t remember you that well.
You eluded finality for 79 years;
I only glimpsed you some 12.
These few memories I still have I cling to,
like the time in your living room,
The cousins sat playing cards on the floor.
You sat straight-backed behind me,
in your chair.
You leaned over,
placed great fingers over my shoulder,
and with a confidential growl
told me to organize my hand by color:

You told me to separate them so I could distinguish.

Is that why you moved when a black family moved into the neighborhood?
So you could distinguish?

I’m not a fool, Grandpa.
You were born in 1924.
Things were different then, but—
how didn’t you learn?

You scaled seas with real-sized ships
to Germany—
not to fight,
but to heal.

How didn’t you learn?
Those people you tried to stitch back together—
those people that were bleeding in all sorts of places—
it was hatred that killed them.

Tell me:
was the Atlantic as calm as Torch Lake?
or did it boil in hypocrisy?

Would you take your grandchildren there,
out to sea?
where winds fold over morals and drown them?
and waves like planets crash over compassion?

Would you protect us?
from the rolling mass beneath our feet
and the quaking bite of the air?

What would you do,
when night fell,
and you didn’t know if the dark was darkness or if the dark was skin?

Leave us to swim?