Ah, Allen, you gave America a new shape & now you’ve lost yours
what a long accomplished road it was from the bridge o’er Paterson Falls
through San Francisco’s Six Gallery, Prague’s May King, Pentagon exorcisms,
mid-America’s Iron Horse, Chicago ’68, Jessore Road, Rolling Thunder,
Rocky Flats, cosmopolitan greetings from NYC’s East 12th street,
to heaven, the bardo, a grasshopper, a gray void, the place where all things
wise and fair descend, the end of suffering—wherever you are,
the most curious place in the universe.
Yesterday in your new Lower East Side loft, I held a clear plastic bag
with your ashes inside, fine off-white powder, only a few small bone
fragments visible, boxed inside last Buddhist shrine.
O those armor-piercing eyes will look out tender photogenic skull no more!
What happens to us? When did we begin taking this trip from energetic
body-souled beings traveling the world for democratic freedoms
and dream-forged poetries
to old-age liver cancer bodies lying softly on hospital cots near busy city
windows, searching one last glimpse of old friends & sidewalk lovers,
devoting life’s last energies to finding new ways to breathe?
Why the hell did we accept this ancient bargain? When did we sign
this horrific contract for a few mere decades of joy?
Well, you were always discovering a new breath, a new spiritus, a
no-money-down person-to-person compassion,
now millions across the globe are chanting “OM” in your honor,
now you’ve joined Shelley’s children of light, become a portion of the
loveliness which once your presence made more so.
But, Allen, how you hung in there! How you gave them hell over four
How you bowled over Howl’s critics piercing thy innocent breast!
How you practiced sanity, candor, intelligence, kindness and boundless
imagination as your weapons!
How you mixed humor and information, utopian yearnings and minute
How you extended and subverted literary traditions in the most interesting
ways and never tired of formal inventiveness!
How you revealed the academy’s shower-curtain’d secret: poetry could
be relevant to our lives!
How you taught all nations’ youth to dig through the deadwood of
exploitation and hypocrisy!
How you were expelled from Prague & erased off primetime radio!
How you showed that a lone human voice well-honed and courageous
could challenge a multinational corporate bureaucracy!
How you became the Unacknowledged Democratic Conscience
of Cold War America!
Allen, you made me laugh a New Aware Laughter for 20 years I knew
your work and you.
I don’t think you would have remembered where we met.
Danny Shot & I were sitting, 57 Guilden Street, New Brunswick porch,
one fall afternoon 1976, awaiting your night’s event.
A cab pulled up to Kevin Hayes’ apartment across street, you hurried out,
unloading cardboard boxes from trunk—
your father’s manuscripts stored years at Rutgers’ Alexander Library.
We went to help—your friendliness astonished, I’d just read “Song
of Myself” & “Howl” first time & decided try poetry—
in one of your last poems you asked for remembrances like this—
With Danny & Kevin, I drove you back to Manhattan that night, you
threw out empty food wrappers & newspapers from my
lemon orange Vega,
then took us on a radical automobile tour of historic East Village.
Months later, you answered letters Danny & I sent, took ten lines of my
manuscript—using cross-outs, exclamation points, a few words,
a reading list, taught my first poetry lesson—
the postcard Danny’d received weeks earlier still implanted in memory—
each line shd have wit, humor, imagery, perception, double-meaning,
a new way of seeing or Poesy in it.
In 1980, I apprenticed with you July at Naropa—in ’82, you gave poems
& funds to help Danny & I launch Long Shot magazine,
you encouraged my poems the next fifteen years—
even after that 1986 early morning Naropa panel where, hungover
& nervous, I called some of your famous poetfriends crazy.
These last two weeks, thousands of poets in dozens of countries have
told tales of your meetings,
Allen, you were loyal & generous to friends & future generations.
Lucky for the planet your words live on—
Lucky for those not yet born Holy Soul Jelly Roll! still carries your baritone voice,
your blues & holy celebrations grab onto mind’s lining and refuse to let go,
your meditative consciousness sits a crosslegged raven on our shoulders
while we scribble odes & design activist modes,
urging us to write what we saw & rally out of kindness.
What a beautiful new loft you bought, how sad death arrived just a few
months after you moved in: high ceilings, room for your office and
clean kitchen for macrobiotic scrapings, wallspace to frame all yr futuristic
two bathrooms, bookcases galore, prophetic volumes lining shelves from
polished hardwood floor how many hundreds of feet up to the soul’s
Oh Allen, you’ve finally joined Walt’s side amid the enduring dead, how can
that be all bad?
now you can forget daily terrors, quit worrying which nation’s elected leader
the CIA will topple during new terms of presidential denial,
which activist friends will be jailed, which youthful heads will bleed from
Tompkins Square Chicago L.A. Moscow Peking police nightstick,
where landlords’ eviction armies will helicopter next.
Like Blake’s Los you gave form to Human Error, Moloch the heavy judge,
Plutonium’s devouring ghost lingering a quarter million years,
Unchecked Capital’s skeleton sweeping homeless off the street,
now it’s up to those with flesh on bones to tame our monsters, inside and
out, to carry your sexy wheel of syllables into peaceful battle
for the next millenium.
Death’s phantom steeds have taken one more wondrous singer—one more
sweetest wisest soul of all our days and lands—to who knows where?
Praised be the cosmic mystery,
Extoled the enlightened fire which outlives the initial spark,
Exalted the echo which rebounds through the universe,
Blessed be these tears, the tears on cheeks of millions who touched your soft
hands, your glowing aura, your living voice, your ink’d page, your
Allen, you tired your heart lungs liver running years up a zillion flights of
creaky lower Manhattan stairs—
I don’t know what happens after death—just that whatever’s been written
Wherever you are now, I hope it has an elevator.