What’s to be done about Death
Stop going to school no. 6 in 1937?
Freeze time tonight, with a headache,
at quarter to 2 AM?
Not go to father’s funeral tomorrow
Not go back to Boulder, not teach at
Not be buried in the cemetery near
Newark airport some day?
James Merrill gave me Allen Ginsberg’s phone number. I was visiting my cousins on the Upper East Side of NYC. I wore a blue blazer, white button down shirt, penny loafers. I didn’t even know where the Lower East Side was let alone what it represented. When I called, told Allen my name, he said, “Who the fuck are you?” I said I wanted to invite him to participate in the Written Image. He said, “What the fuck is that?” I explained and he replied, “Why the fuck would I do that?” Now, I got mad and said, “Well, Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop, and Octavio Paz thought it was a good idea. Fine with me, if you don’t want to participate.” He replied, “Why the fuck didn’t you say that! Get down here right now.”
I was nervous on the Lower East Side. I was twenty-two, dressed like a prep school kid. In his neighborhood, followed by a young Spanish man and a rumpled, older man with a white beard wearing a large overcoat, they entered Ginsberg’s building behind me. I climbed the stairs faster. Ginsberg’s door was open. He was down the hall. Inside, I tried to close the door, even leaned against it, as the other men tried to push in. When Ginsberg saw me, he said, “Let them in. They’re my friends.” He shook his head at my foolishness. They entered, listened to what I wanted to do. The older man remarked as he left, “I was a painter, once, until I saw the work of Pisanello. I gave up. I knew I could never be that good.”
Ginsberg was the most fastidious poet I’ve worked with. He wanted reassurance that the rag paper, and the India ink, would last forever. He wrote out a recent journal entry. The irony is that he is buried in the graveyard he mentions. Reflecting on him, as I struggled to discover a visual equivalent, I saw light under shadow. This gave me the idea of covering crayon colors with India ink, the color peeking through by scraping ink away. The tension between the suppressed color and the color poking through seemed to speak about Allen’s concerns, captured something of his childish nature.