I met Steve Dalachinsky while he was selling books on Spring St on the sidewalk in the late ’90s. I was a teenager, soon to graduate high school, a suburban punk eager for the city, desperate for an escape that I could only find in books and bands.
I cannot remember what I bought from him or if I ever bought anything. This is important to mention because when he was on the street, he didn’t have much time for anything else but sales. He had to make those books move because there was no room for them in storage or his and Yuko’s legendary apartment so stuffed with books and art.
But with me and certain others, he made room on the stoop for you while also shoving books in your hand and reading aloud from them in between his street peddling and beatific ranting.
To know Steve was to know he was jazz. It coursed through his veins. To him, his desire to avoid missing a gig was the most paramount of concerns.
When I was very young and still so new to the city, he would bring me to jazz clubs, introduce me to the bouncer as his daughter to yes, get past the fact that I was underage but also to avoid paying the cover. He was doing the good work, bringing his child to the music.
This exposure to the music evolved when I became entrenched in the LES small press scene that centered around the experimental music venue, Tonic, which was essentially Steve’s home away from home as it was the place where every luminary of the experimental jazz scene played and explored and he was there for it. Because these were his friends. This was his family.
Eventually, I came to work in the bookstore that lived within that space and we saw each other almost every night. And it was in this moment that he was more than a friend but really more a father to the intersection of poetry, music, and art that my life was evolving to be.
I have stories of how he taught me to listen to jazz, how to be it, be improvisatory, but how he taught me to listen to poetry was life changing.
Once, I remember we were at a reading for Alice Notley, it was in the old Zinc location and packed to the gills and we were stuck out by the bar. I had never heard her read out loud before and thankfully the space put an amp in front so folks in the front could hear. I can’t remember the specifics of what Steve whispered in my ear during that reading but I do remember him telling me to witness when she took breath and pause and in retrospect, I think this was when I learned what embodiment meant.
A relationship to not only language, but your language, your meaning. In relationship to whatever was around you. And how that became a language.
This was the work but it was also your life. Your friends, your community.
It all seems so simple but so beyond the implications and parameters that academia has infected within poetry and for those who knew him, we saw something else to combat that reality as we volley through this other affect on this thing we call poetry. This ephemera we have chosen to center our lives around.
Many of my oldest friends share similar stories like these of Steve’s influence but when word broke of the loss, Facebook seemed to flood with more throughout my feed from around the world. And in their ubiquitous nature, one could not be unmoved. It was abundantly clear.
The love for the people in his life was so paramount and his generosity was how he let you know.
The other night, I re-watched Wim Wenders’ film, Wings of Desire, because I have been thinking of it as I miss Steve. It comforts me in how Steve reminds me of the Peter Falk character in the film, a fallen angel who shows the protagonist, also an angel about to descend, the way down to Earth.
How Falk approaches his fellow angel with openness and acknowledgement of their status.
There is a parallel in how Steve did this to his friends, this beautiful magic man who saw the artist in you before you could see it in yourself. And how this interconnectedness of beings he chose spoke as some sort of code of alignment among us all.