Sunday, April 20, 1997

Journal entry, Allen Ginsburg Memorial, Passover Eve., Buddha’s Birthday.


4/20 Allen Ginsburg Memorial, Temple Emanuel, Arguello St. SF. Passover Eve., Buddha’s Birthday. In the courtyard, poets greet us in white robes. Oranges and gardenias float in the fountain. We enter the temple like wedding guests.

Said the rabbi, “‘Others criticized, ‘How could you honor such a person as Ginsburg in a holy temple?’”

Said the rabbi, “A temple is not sacred until sacred people gather in it. Welcome.”

A tribe of poets gather here today, some 3000 strong: an Ecstasy of Poets. The energy is like at COBRA founder Bert Scheerbeek’s funeral in Amsterdam, last June, I stood between his disciples Jan Volkers, Hugo Claus and Willem van Toorn. Breaking from tradition and metered verse, Bert’s post W.W.II vision begat Allen’s voice, which in turn, begat our own poetic voices. I never again thought I’d experience the chaotic force of poets united in one mind. Surely this is Godhead. Yes, we who work at living… and what is the work? To ease the work of living…

So many long-lost friends I haven’t seen in ages, I thought them dead: Steve Petty, Stephen Kessler, the Joannes: Kyger & Hotchkiss, the Jacks: Micheline, Hirshman and Foley, Noni Howard, bald as an egg. A trick of vision:

I imagined the dead joined us. Embodied poetics. Was that really Boschka Layton in the wings, with her face adroop with Bells’ Palsy, dead these 22 years, (Donald Sutherland’s sister). And was it Cliff McEntire serving us platters of sea bass at poets dinners in the Haight? John Logan. Brother Antoninus? (William Everson in his fringed buckskin jacket and boots).

And Robert Duncan in black, like a Zen master Bending the Bow? Kerouac, Cassidy, Brautigan? One-eyed Creeley? I swear I saw Lew Welsh’s face in the crowd. Ring of Bone. Paul Mariah smoking, swigging from his flask and giggling. And the ones I once wished dead, the ex-flames: John Oliver Simon. And a current flame: where is Neil? Oh, to have arms big enough to embrace this room! People five-deep in the aisles: I give Neil’s seat to Terry Ehret. Good to see her.

Nancy Peters said City Lights was inundated with letters, tributes, calls from all over the world. Larry Ferlinghetti said “I’ll always remember Ginsburg’s voice singing Blake.” And read “Allen Ginsburg Dying.” Mark Linenthal who brought Howl into the classroom, said, “He, more than any other writer, changed what a writer could, or should be…”

Ginsburg, our uncle, our poetic ancestor, gave us the right to write from the heart. Kyger, who went to India with Allen, read from his journal: “Widen the area of consciousness until it becomes so wide, it encompasses its own death… widen consciousness…keep it simple…behind writing is the practice of meditation.” Kyger holds up her hand, says “It’s 1977: Allen makes a literary map of Bolinas: ‘I hear the waves of Bolinas reef saying, boxcar, boxcar, boxcar…’” We chuckle.

Pantherlike Ann Waldman notes: “The weight and desire that human attachment brings…Allen flossing his teeth… making chicken soup…” Did someone say he resembled Dostoyevski in death? “All ashes, all ashes again…”

Bob Hass said, “Allen showed us the importance of breath in prosody or free verse—how they breathed their very breath. ‘The point wasn’t to suffer, the point was to get it.’” We murmur in appreciation. Michael McClure, ever in black, “I met Allen in ’54 at a party in SF for W.H. Auden. We were both wallflowers. Allen set benchmarks of political consciousness and speaking out.”

Diane diPrima said: “The excellence of every art is its intensity… How will you measure Allen’s passing… how will you measure the dark?” Gary Snyder remembered Allen visiting in Berkeley, with Rexroth “drinking our graduate schooling down the tubes… Howl held the power of the voice, of the breath… Allen broke that open for all of us.” Gary’s long, rangy voice filled the temple, “It’s Buddha’s birthday. Allen chose to die during the month of cherry blossoms blooming.”

April is poetry month, not T.S. Elliot’s cruellest month… Gary sings from Magpie’s Song: “Here in the mind brother, turquoise blue…” I hum along. It’s Passover Eve. Fill the temple with the sacredness of poets. A kaddish beyond words. Shalom. You spoke of simultaneous thought, Allen: First mind, best mind. Full moon! And Earth Day! Timothy Leary takes to the skies in his silver ship! Bon Voyage Timothy Leary. Say Hello to Allen!

At intermission Herman Berlandt said Neil wasn’t here, but I knew he was, I could feel him. There: standing on the pillar steps. I yelled Neil! several times. He searched, but couldn’t see me. Across the sea of faces, I watched him, as if stranger (who is this man?), before I wormed my way across the courtyard to his side, reclaiming my destiny. Whoever he is, we are linked. There is magic afoot. I touched his arm and he burst into smile.

So many people to talk to: Joanne Kyger asks about the lump in my breast… resuming a conversation we’d had 2 1/2 years earlier. I hug David Bromige, Steve Tills, Ann Erickson, Gary Glazner, Duncan McNaughton—the old Sonoma gang. Last time I saw Whitman McGowan, his face was painted blue. (Light-years before Gibson in “Braveheart”). I choke, suddenly remembering my dead mother’s hands in front of the bonfire in Whitman’s videopoem. An aftergift for the survivors.

The scent of gardenias and 3000 fresh orange rind simultaneously releasing essential oils: the juicy tang of communion. Noni Howard and I nip Hennessy's by the fountain, she was captivated by a man with knee-length dreadlocks, a felt pelt, and here she was bald as an egg, painting on eyebrows and lashes longer than he’s been growing dreadlocks. I don’t think Neil fully caught the irony of the situation. Poets really are wonderfully weird. I hold my breath.

He looks a bit bewildered, but seems to be taking it all in stride. Good. Another test passed. This is where my prospective men have failed the test unless they happen to be crazy as poets too. It’s as if poetry makes us unfit: unable to fit in with the rest of humanity. He walks me to my truck, we lean on the brick wall gazing into the park. Talks of his father, again. And the spaces between worlds. The universe puts me on alert. Something big is about to happen. And he is central to it. Something inexorable closing in.

Jack and Adele Foley, Herman, Neil and I went to the Mission District for dinner at an Indian restaurant. All over the city, poets were feasting and fucking in honor of Allen Ginsburg. Over chapatis, Jack tells us about a long, spontaneous interview he just did with Allen for KPFA. A pregnant woman joins us and announces she’s a single mother looking for a husband. No one makes her an offer. Neil mumbles into his plate: “It’s easier to give birth to a child than to give birth to a husband,” as if he were struggling with the concept himself.

Over dinner, I marvel at how Neil and Jack’s bodies are cast from the same mold: short, barrel-chested, foreshortened arms, diminutive starfish hands. Fir Bolgs? Neil’s a handsome man, most pleasing to look at. Jack’s stringy hair and glasses hide his face, but his eyes and brows are similar. Jack tells us stories of his father, an Irish vaudeville actor blarneying his way out of a ticket from an Irish cop. A lesson on how to grease the spoon.

Neil spoonfeeds me the last of the mango chutney. Walks me to my truck “Like an Old world gentleman.” “In which case,” I say, “I’ll take your arm (and a leg too, if I can).” I give him some Irish books, for, though he’s a descendant of Irish kings, he doesn’t know his own cultural heritage, the Ulster stories of Cú Chullain, Conchobar and Deirdre. The Táin. Fionn McCumhail.

He said, “My flabber is gasted. This merits a kiss…” Our first beneath the orange glow of sodium lamps. He loves to tease me. I like who I am around him: shy, gawky, a child, a sophisticated woman. He pulls me to him, I lay my head on his shoulder. This is becoming habit-forming. I’m still torn by the daisy petal routine: he loves me, he loves me not…

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