A Poem for The Man in the Wings

Mt Iliamna and Mt Redoubt

Mt Iliamna (left) and Mt Redoubt (right), two active volcanoes in the Alaska Range across from Ninilchik, Alaska. Photo by Arlitia Jones


Someone I knew died last night. Suddenly. Heart attack. His passing leaves an empty space in our community.

I didn’t know him well, but that’s beside the point. He was kind and creative and made the coolest puppets I’d ever seen. Each one was a work of art, distinct in their detail and personality. I used to wonder what his house looked like with a crowd of his creation filling it. If they all talked at once, what a fabulous cacophony!

He always encouraged me in my writing. Whenever he saw one of my plays he always made it a point to send a message congratulating me. That meant a lot. I know he’d seen a helluva lot of plays.

He was a member of the IATSE union, worked in the wings at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts. When I attended plays there I could always see his distinct outline moving set pieces in the blue dark of the scene-change light.  When he found out my play Rush was going to go up there this February, he messaged me to congratulate me and we made plans to celebrate with a beer at Darwins, his hangout pub right around the corner.

It’s the little things like that you look forward to. Sure, my play is going up, there’ll be opening night stuff happening, all the big deal stuff going on, but I thought it was really great that one of crew, one of the “cool” people in our theatre world, wanted to have a beer with me.

That beer is still going to happen. Anyone who wants to join me, Feb 14, yes, valentines, can lift a pint to Buzz Schwall and all the people who’ve touched our lives. All the people we miss.



Here in the Valley Between


Everything today asks the same question,

the great mystery our lives:

How long do we have here?


Across the inlet, two volcanoes

stare into the east, their steep faces

bathed in the soft light of this particular earth day.


But what of evening? when the sun

fires the atmosphere

and the inferno remembers


why it is here among us

–Creation and Destruction–

How audacious I am


brushing my teeth against decay, boiling water

for an egg three minutes from now, telling a friend I will attend

the Breast Cancer luncheon next Wednesday.


Tomorrow and tomorrow

and the day after that, I have plans

here in the valley between two volcanoes.


Probably not tonight, but eventually

they’ll shatter our sky. Let’s agree now to look

for each other in the morning.

–Arlitia Jones


Goodbye, Buzz. We miss you. (Photo grabbed from Christina Kouris’ Facebook page. I liked this one because of the bee and because of his smile.)

10 Comments on “A Poem for The Man in the Wings

    • He wasn’t a center stage kind of guy, maybe. I’m sure you’d recognize him, he was around everywhere. Perennial. Always peeking out second story window at Cyrano’s. I’m sure he’s overheard our shenanigans a million times. We’d forget to look up, you know. 🙂


  1. so weird…I was just thinking about him the other day- and the project I did recording a voice for his puppets before I left town! will be sure to raise a glass to you both on the day of the saint! lots of love to you my friend!


  2. Buzz created, lived as a collaborator in art, life, and his ego required no stage. Just the stories and friendships and wild imaginations he shared. I think he saw beauty, tenderness in those volcanoes. He lived as mentor to living.


    • Beautifully said. I never got the chance to work with him, but I remember seeing one of his puppet shows for the first time, Orpheus in the Underworld. I gasped when I saw the Orpheus puppet. He’d made magic.


  3. I’m so sorry to hear of your friend’s passing. This poem is a beautiful tribute to him, Arlitia. Thank you for putting back so much beauty into a sometimes-raggedy world. XO Anne


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