He read the Hebrew name of G-d, the tetragrammaton’s four unpronounceable letters, as a representation of respiration: one breath in, one breath out. That sound was the Holy of Holies. He told me this last summer, over the phone. I was sixty years old, but that insight sounded like the most brilliant thing I’d ever heard. He took very seriously his midlife conversion to Orthodox Judaism, talking to rabbis and Hasids, reading Maimonides and Hillel, and using his middle name, “Elias,” to sign himself at times. Eclectic defined him, as did sudden turns at perpendicular angles.
Editorial note: Rosanne Wasserman’s tribute to Tom Weatherly was originally published at the blog for The Best American Poetry on August 4, 2014, and is reproduced here in slightly edited form.
Note: The following images, kindly provided by Rosanne Wasserman, are taken from one of Tom Weatherly’s illustrated “reading copies” of his book Short History of the Saxophone, published by Wasserman and Eugene Richie’s Groundwater Press in 2006. Throughout his life, Weatherly densely and colorfully illustrated his books, notably his dictionary, so that they sometimes came to resemble something close to medieval illuminated manuscripts.