Spring Poet Cy Perchik Dies at 98

Cy Perchik
Cy Perchik (Photo by Dorian Bergen)

Cy Perchik died peacefully on June 14 at the age of 98 surrounded by his family. A longtime resident of Springs, he lived an extraordinary life.

Born in 1923, he served in the Air Force during World War II as a pilot, flying 35 overseas missions. Returning to America, he married, started a family, became a lawyer, then, in 1975, served as an Assistant Suffolk County District Attorney as its first environmental prosecutor beginning in 1975. He required that Sag Harbor create a public water system downtown over many protests from local merchants about the upset the town would have to go through for several months as the water line was put in place.

Then, in 1980, at the age of 57, he retired to live with his family in a modest home in East Hampton adjacent to Maidstone Park. There, he embarked on the second half of his life, writing poetry full time and becoming East Hampton’s Poet Laureate.

Perchik did not write at home. Every day, he’d walk to the rural bus stop on Three Mile Harbor Road and take the bus into town, where he’d sit at a table in one of numerous markets, coffee houses and even the YMCA, spending hours and hours by himself writing poetry.

He was approachable in these locations, a friend to whoever came by. But after a while, he’d go back to work. His poems subsequently were published in the New Yorker, the Nation, the Partisan Review and many other publications. He published 34 books. He became one of the most remarkable and probably the most prolific poet in America. He did this practically every day for the next 40 years, and I, occasionally visiting him “at one of his places of work,” got to know him well.

He had ceased owning a car. I once asked him about it.

“I priced one out. A Volkswagen. With insurance, gas, repairs and car payments, it made no sense to me. I like the walk and I like the bus.”

I also asked him where he got his inspiration. He said he had no idea. Poems just happened.

Poem by Cy Perchik

You can’t tell what death is saying
— it looks you in the face as the sound
when you are carried the way a veil
wraps its sorrow in streams feeding on shores
that know only thirst — you take the chance
fall in love with death, tell it your lips
grow colder, heavier — from the start
you’re kept from everything else
it’s all you know, the step by step
each losing its way by looking
for the other that is already a shadow
will carry you where no one has lived before.

More from Our Sister Sites