N a p a l m H e a l t h S p a : R e p o r t 2 0 1 0
Your Wisdom Eye Gleams
sitting in neon Chinese eating thick rice soup, steamed clams
and the shrimp with lobster sauce I ordered: “it’s okay...I just have
to watch the salt,” you said to my dietary questions
and now you’re gone, poet of the front lines
poet of beatnik, original bearded then briefly clean shaven
dharma student and seducer of straight boys
well, we who were primarily straight
Neelie Cherkovski remembering you, said: “he never let me pay
for a meal.” And you, even last Christmas when I was flush
wouldn't let me buy that dinner for us
I borrowed hundreds from you as a spendthrift drug-addled
young man, thinking I’d “earned” it with my ass...
...that scared first night in
accepted for my heart and young writer’s mind, so would suffer
that to have a connection, any connection, with The Bard—living
spark of Whitmanic honesty and American singer—confronter
brave voiced taker-on of Time Magazine and CIA...
I was used to being used when seduced by those few other
men lovers. Except by you: romantic in your affection and desire
to fall asleep in my arms, bald pate and curly beard near my
end of Naropa term,
I’d been your apprentice at
Disembodied Poetics—and occasional bed partner—wrote letters
for you, helped transcribe Peter Orlovsky’s smiling vegetable
poems, eating your pork chop, kasha and mushroom gravy dinner,
then going to a dance, stripping off my shirt to Bob Marley
“Hey, that’s ageist,” you yelled at “Crazy Baldhead” song
but bent to kiss my flat belly and boy nipple—I turned you down to
nipple but like you, no sexy story-end that night.
And you never held it against me if I didn’t want you
was always eager to have a meal at Vesulkas when I came to
Lower East Side visit, tho after Naropa I was on H. whenever in
NYC and would have sex with you without erection, sometimes
sucking or jerking you off, other times just sleeping together after
walking the wind-swept
to your apartment for dessert of stewed fruit and conversations
about writers, drugs, politics.
Yes, strange to visualize you as I bend to slick prostration board
20 years after that first summer, I now Vajrayana Buddhist too
—I wonder if you completed your ngondro (preliminary practices)
if your wisdom mind knew you’d die, if thru static coma you
picked nearly to the day, the ten-year anniversary of your teacher
Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s paranirvana passing?
And there you are, picture next to my own dead folks, you
the speech guru, bard, strident voiced, gentle lover—the inquisitive
friend and generous soul with the old old eyes—smiling as I bend,
then stretch out full on the board, touch forehead down, folded
prayer hands—all of us bowing to the Guru of Original Mind—
push up back to stand, wishing to benefit all beings by my efforts
as you did with your Lion’s Roaring Voice of the Non-Self
Triumphant, the Great Truth of Liberation you sang and shouted
for all to hear with your Indian harmonium from the ’60s and your
basso profundo “Gospel Noble Truths,” or “Don't Smoke” song
(which I would have told you had I been home when you called
goodbye, a new friend saw you sing in mid-80s Philly and said:
“that’s it, I’ll never smoke again,” and hasn’t
such was your power of Speech)
and I’m still in shock...
have read all of “Kaddish” again, and again in sections for
friends who call with your death news—no one could imagine it—
my heart cave aches anew, my father gone three years, followed by
mother, then NYC Aunt and now, you.
I once thought you the “good father” who fought the good
fight and didn't give up to raise kids and develop the lush habit
that you were somehow bigger than my own Dad whose body
nourished mine, gave me his poisoned gifts and sweetness of mien
and mid-west corniness I mix with the urbanity you suavely wore.
So…yes, I caw the crow song like the day of my Father’s funeral
—the end to “Kaddish”—and maketh of the caw a ratchet whir as I
struggle not forget anything of you, even your surprising ass-pinch
just18 months ago, night of San Francisco R. LaVigne gallery
show, week after our DNA Nightclub poetry fund-raiser for Lama
Tharchin Rinpoche’s Vajrayana Foundation—no big sex come-
on—just a reminder of your affection.
I could rarely bring myself to talk about my own poems with
you, you were usually kind but unenthusiastic, so kept to mutual
friends, politics or new musicians you liked.
A few years back, we spoke at length on your birthday
I had called midnight NYC time to wish you happiness and we
shared teaching stories. I was having hard time with high school
kids, the enormity, the strangulation of paperword and you agreed
—even your few college courses were a lot of reading work.
Last Christmas picked you up at airport, drove thru the city of
Saint Francis, to the Trident Hotel, talking of investments
stock market, and how strange it was to stand with poet buddy
Marc Olmsted (who had introduced us 20 years ago)
of inheritance monies we hoped to retire on: “the stock market’s
risky,” you advised and told me to call someone you trusted, how
your money was well invested.
Then, waiting for a busy restaurant table, I told you of a
poem, just an image really, from the summer Buddhist retreat I’d
been on. “What is the image?” you commanded and off
we went, haiku seeking.
“NO! Don’t try to sound so Buddhist,” you yelled at my first
attempt, and finally you were satisfied with the little thing and
wrote it in a notebook. Supper arrived, and we spoke of
Lama Tharchin Rinpoche, whom you never met, and when I told
you I’d been looking for such a kind Lama all my life said:
“that’s what everyone wants!” like it was obvious—why hadn't I seen it
That night, driving you home, you spoke of congestive heart
problems and how they might get you a new heart.
“Can you imagine? an old guy like me, with a new heart?”
You invited me to see Beck, whose Grandfather you knew,
but I was busy and so declined—now regretful...
Then, later news of your illness: I hadn’t known about your liver
—the dreaded Hep C hit lots of i.v. drug takers and me—
and you never mentioned it.
So…yes, I was shocked into tears hearing of cancer
diagnosis after a rough April Fool’s night of missed new lover
connection (thought I’d been stood up and sat wailing-sad
in lonely cabin—only comfort: thought of Lama Tharchin, my
head in his sweet lap—all sleepy-eyed I fell, blue heart HUNG
seed-syllable spinning towards dream land, ta-da, ta-da)
standing in Vajrayana Foundation kitchen, next morning’s
wrench of terminal news as tears sprang
and I clutched the living girlfriend of Marc O., shook with the
message that you wanted I should call you soon but would get the
phone number of the hospice from him via letter too late
that I had no idea I wouldn’t say my goodbyes
that I wouldn't see your wise old eyes
that I wouldn't again take your arm to help you
cross the street.
I would have read your poems out loud with you
asked you questions
asked more about the political world you knew
your insights grown from the soil of rich imaginings...
And like all bad news it got worse in the following days as
the papers picked up the story, until Saturday, when your old friend
and my sangha brother Sheppard told me details: you had gone
from stroke into coma and thence the bardo of becoming...
and so we did our own ngondro, as is our habit now
replacing the drugs and crazy drunks, and my prayer bead mala
snapped during mandala offerings: I offer my own meager poet
skills and my friendship 20 years, and the thread breaks
and has always broken and will break, and it is a dream that I am
is a dream that you are gone
is a dream new love and I imagine you in pure-land
Copper Colored Mountain, with rivers of amrita in sandalwood forests
is a dream that we ever ate shrimp together and wrote haiku
and danced to reggae and smoked hash in
...that summer,1980, you gave me Julian Beck’s phone number
I was going to Europe, Paris to stay at Sister’s, and wanted to do
Living Theater but the caretaker said I couldn't stay there, so spent
my dwindling cash on a pensione, yogurt, prosciutto and melon
coffee and bread and wore out my tennis shoes walking ancient
streets everywhere alone the week before you arrived and spent my
last $20 on canary yellow canvas shoes with leather soles.
You were staying at the American Hotel, with the McClures,
Corso, Jackie Curtis and George Scrivani, I rode around in taxis
with you, went to parties. In your room you got me stoned on hash
and asked me to fuck your ass and spank you; I obliged, your gritty
shit wiped on extra sheets. I was secret snorting the last of the coke
I had brought from NYC in the bathroom, still high on Italian
morphine copped with Burroughs so, as usual, couldn’t keep a
hard-on for you...
And how, now sober, I ramble on about drugs and sex!
...also many walks with you, long talks about Buddhism and writers and
music, dinners in Chinese restaurants and coffee in
North Beach or drives to and from the airport
my first trip to NYC, Xmas of ’79, took the red-eye, arrived
at dawn, taxi to college friend’s vacant upper west side apartment
fell to fitful slumber, woke 10 a.m. for first gray daylight look at
Big Apple, and saw you briskly walking to building across the
street! I fumbled with window to call out, but you’d gone inside
to pose with Peter for those famous pen and ink nude drawings
the coincidence of you being my first waking NYC sight
never escaped me: You were King of Gotham, Pied Piper of St.
Mark’s Place, the sophisticate who’d surprise me with invitations
to galleries and readings and introductions...
...tho always felt the stain of the catamite, the “you-
wouldn't-be-here-if-you-weren't-cute” vibe I later realized at heart
of own neurotic mind—plenty of good feelings and times together
after I declared myself straight, got married, as AIDS began its
rampage—plenty of younger straight boys, or safe-sexed gays to
fuck which is how, amazingly, you didn't get virus yourself....
Olmsted wrote 20 years ago about you:
“I slept with Socrates/ wouldn’t you?”
and so it was true...
ever the teacher, you sat me down for early shamatha (insight
meditation) instruction in
center many times), adjusting my posture with a flirty squeeze
After sitting we gazed out over red brick apartment house
sunset and you asked me what I saw, gave primary “first thought,
best thought” observation/writing instruction.
“But what to write about?” I asked
“Wordsworth said: ‘emotions recollected in tranquility,’ so
write about what’s powerful, what’s up, in that moment of
quietude, from past or present...”
…which advice I use and give to this day
also: “If you are reasonably good looking, and ask 20 people
to sleep with you, one will agree.” or: “Just write 5 minutes every
day—by the end of your life you’ll have more good poetry than
people will care to read.”
or: (as I quoted to new love just last week) “imagine your
lover as corpse already rotting; so is vaporous Desire and Mind.”
such sanity rare!
And Sheppard and I finish ngondro—tho somehow manage
to break my other mala too—and then do phowa (ritual for
transference of consciousness after death) for you: Visualize you
at one with feminine deity-principle Yeshe Tsogyal, we both got
clear smiling sense of you, happy out of time, no real confusion in
after-death bardo state. And my crown aperture, from whence
consciousness exits at death, glows warm in the spring air as I walk
to my car, done with what limited good I can do, donation money
in pocket and a phone call in to Lama Tharchin for him to also
perform phowa, and realize that all over the world prayers and
memorials are being said and planned, that the consciousness of
the planet was tweaked by your passing—that your life and words
and you would not be forgot:
not swept under fundamentalist rug
not glossed over by bigoted historians or spurious
conservative columnists and the hate preaching
not forgot by the hundreds of lovers and students, fans by
thousands, read by millions in all language, kind friend of Beings
and enemy of Moloch towers from
Podunk or Beijing, defender of Speech—you railed a few years
ago to find that your own “Howl” again banned from many
Public Radio airways...
And you never rested on Laurels, never retired to tomatoes
or taxi drivers. And would always ask after my love life
who I was sleeping with, tell me about your successes there, not
bragging, amused that you still got laid—bald, Bell’s Palsy droop-
cheeked—older looking than my own father three years ago before
his death’s head rictus...
One of our last meetings: 8 a.m. coffee and trip to airport—
we sat in the
broken hearted and reviled...
The day before we’d driven around the City, to art book
publisher/ poet Andrew Hoyem,
which got you excited, you talked of moving
walk-up—hard on your legs—we stopped off at Shig’s where you
always stayed, and talked about Peter’s drug rehab and the
Addict’s Personality: “I don’t understand: Peter, Gregory,
Burroughs, Marc, You—you’re all smart guys; how’d ya get
hooked? I could never do that every day.” Explaining the disease
aspect, the mental obsession, the spiritual distress and emotional
immaturity of the addict/alcoholic gave you pause: “I went to Al
Anon meetings for awhile...it helped dealing with Peter when he
was tweaked on speed, cleaning the sidewalk with a toothbrush...”
Later, vegetarian, oil and fat free, Chinatown dinner with
Bob Sharrard, you posing us in Kerouac Alley behind City Lights
yelling: “just look natural,” when I got camera nervous.
After coffee, saying good night on windswept corner of
Green and Grant,
“so…you sleeping with someone tonight?”
You once gave Diane di Prima a tape of your favorite American
Blues, and were listening to Ma Rainey’s “CC Ryder” last week
when you entered the Coma of No Return.
And Laura Nyro, ’60s songwriter/ singer, died cancer
four days after you. When I found out, listened to her
“And When I Die”—soothing lyric early spiritual teaching for me:
My troubles are many
they’re as deep as a well
I swear there ain’t no heaven
but I pray there ain't no hell
I wonder if you’d ever met/ talked Buddhism with her
before she retired to garden and family and ovarian cancer death.
Remembering another old favorite song of yours:
Good night Irene, Irene good night
Good night Irene, good night Irene,
I’ll see you in my dreams....
Back to that summer of ’77 at Naropa, having dinner
with William Burroughs (another student, T., spilled red wine all
over his suited formality) and Gregory Corso (prophetic bard of the
iron constitution)—both addicts—yet somehow now keen eyed
mourners of you.
Later it was “Jazz-Po”—a goofy folk music and poetry night—
when we learned Elvis Presley had died and you played harmonium
with Handsome Peter on guitar, singing “Good Night Irene,” “Keep
it Clean (in your between),” “Gospel Noble Truths” and others—
lots of stage confusion, improvised lyric and not much jazz—but
you were from the Blues—and we sang along, swigging beer in the
I remembered that night, 20 years later, preparing for your
Memorial Reading main SF synagogue, xeroxed “Gospel Noble
Truths” lyric for poets and mourners, got my guitar and led a
sing-a-long because Kral Marales, King of the May, was dead:
Long live the King!
Santa Cruz Mountains
April 1997/ March 2010