It was summer 91, I think, when sharing a joint on a brick fire escape after a night of acid-tapped cartoon lunacy, my friend Steve exhaled smoke into the Manchester morning and casually asked if I’d heard of a writer called William Burroughs. I hadn’t, but that moment was my first gleaming of what was to become a deep, unremitting love for the man J.G. Ballard called ‘True genius and first mythographer of the mid-twentieth century’. Steve passed the joint and disappeared indoors – momentarily leaving me staring, rabbit-eyed, into the headlights of reality – before returning with a tatty, yellowing paperback. ‘Read this,’ he said, thrusting the well-thumbed pages at me. ‘You’ll love it.’ Continue Reading…
Archives For Memoirs, Fiction & Poetry
Fiction and poetry from the magazine.
I hopped the BART train for the short ride under the bay from Fremont to San Francisco. It was 1995 and the newest incarnation of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art had recently opened. I had heard that the masterwork of my former painting teacher was now on “permanent” display there. It was Jay DeFeo’s The Rose. Continue Reading…
“He looks so old!” was my first thought as the hospital elevator doors parted, revealing my dad. I was aghast at the vision before me. He appeared to have aged twenty years since I’d seen him the year before. His skin was weathered and tanned, his clean-shaven face was wrinkled and worn, and his neatly combed hair was wispy and sparse. Despite the grin on Dad’s face, his faded blue eyes disclosed the harsh life he’d been leading. If I hadn’t known his age (41), I would’ve guessed he was at least 70 years old. Seeing him like that broke my heart.
“I cried in the Cathedral of the Savior to hear the choir boys sing a gorgeous old thing, while angels seemed to be hovering around—”
Jack Kerouac, “Big Trip to Europe”
Affects and effects
Choir boys sang
Sending a pang
In lonesome heart
Rust reds fulfill
Lucid liquid diamond
Infants understanding silence
Kerouac, Jack. Road Novels 1957-1960. (New York: Penguin, 2007). pp. 749-750.
Our Year in Downtown Red
Yesterday’s sunshine and spectacular seventy degrees are replaced by rapidly plummeting temperatures and the forecast for Thanksgiving: a nor’easter that may include inches of snow. I hope that storm goes way out to sea, so travelers and families and friends can celebrate a happy holiday without worry about the weather and driving. Robert and I look forward to his lovely sister’s traditional Mayflower New England American hospitality in her warm and inviting home: a huge roast turkey with stuffing and gravy and mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes and dozens of side dishes and appetizers and a big dessert table with, of course, pumpkin pie and apple pie all served with love and cheer and thanksgiving. I’m about ready to burst into tears thinking about it, and what if the weather keeps me here alone in Active Town with our boxes of oatmeal and pasta and no family cheer and not much else, and that is a sad and terrible thought. Thanksgiving is the homiest holiday of the year, and I’m grateful that I’ve been welcome into the family fold since Robert and I met.
However, now after what seems only a foolish and expensive and unnecessary move, maybe they won’t like me anymore for disturbing the peace. This move bore fruit, thus far, of a few forced and bitter tears, days and nights of separation and loneliness and rejection, and a sour taste, but time will probably reveal something that I haven’t yet fully seen, perhaps, courage and conversion and a more grateful heart, a more loving human and humble heart, a heart that has become more discerning to the ways of the world. In my heart of hearts, I don’t think I’ll find a job here; I believe I have given up the search. We’ll see what unfolds. Robert and I plan on visiting the condo in Boring Town, and that boring town is beginning to seem more and more pleasant with its quiet town ways, away from the bustle and hustle of Active Town.
Now, with the update forecast, maybe it won’t be wise for Robert to travel home. Maybe it’ll be a tedious and hours long dangerous drive. Maybe he should stay up north, because there will be no place for him to park here—no room in the underground garage with Vincenzo’s three big outrageously expensive Ferrari, Lamborghini, Aston Martin . . . and maybe the ridiculous Hummer and The Boss’s Range Rover, and a “please don’t park here” for us.
The thought occurs to me that I am getting used to being alone. I’m getting used to years of unemployment, and I will survive, and I’ll survive the year without a Thanksgiving. Maybe I could show up at the community kitchen, yes, I might learn something there. I won’t go as a volunteer, I’ll go as a friendless and hungry and thirsty stranger, alone in America on the day Americans give thanks. I’ll go as one of the country’s unemployed citizens—one poor in spirit who has lost hope of ever getting a full-time job with benefits ever again. I’ll go naked, naked in aloneness, naked in crying for mercy, naked in mourning, naked in humility, naked in old age, naked into the great big homelessness of the unwanted manuscript—right into the slush pile of rejection. And when that’s all over, I’ll climb into my silver cloud and drive into my warm parking space in the heated underground garage . . . and call the wrap place across the street for a delivery of some turkey fire fingers, like I’m some big rock star. Then I’ll race down the street, spring into the bakery, jump over the counter, grab a big hunk of apple strudel, and distribute it to all the other friendless and hungry strangers.
. . . “who studied . . . St. John of the Cross . . . ” [i]
His aloneness in a dungeon
Imprisoned in cruel Spanish cell
Con-tem-pla-tive and silent hell
Meditative knees he fell
Light and dark thus intertwined
Lead to poetry sublime
Ecstasy and agony
Suffered his cross
In crucified reality
Found the light
In deepest darkest night
The obscure night of the soul
Forever in eternity be told
Mystic poet, mystic saint
Love never stained or taint
Patron saint of mystics
San Juan de la Cruz
Sacrifice and detachment
Sanctity and holiness
Embraced Christo Rey
who studied Plotinus Poe St. John of the Cross who studied Plotinus Poe St. John of the Crosswho studied Plotinus Poe St. John of the Cross
[i] Ginsberg, Allen. “Howl.”
“Francis Thompson (!)” i
“My mangled youth lies dead beneath the heap.
My days have crackled and gone up in smoke,
Have puffed and burst as sun-starts on a stream.”
“The Hound of Heaven” by Francis Thompson
First chastised by a chase
Through London laudanum haze and haste
Up and down and down and out
Stop to have another taste
Nowhere to run to, baby, nowhere to hide ii
On this side of the great divide
The hound and words chasing fast
Will this misery ever pass?
Affliction, affliction, affliction
In desolate dereliction
Money not for pen or paper
Hopes dashed and end in vapor
Beating feet and voices beat
Futile to try and retreat
Heart beating in the heat
Stop those endless running feet
Angels, visions, lighted tapers
Heaven chased hare through all capers
Hound that hound chased him down
Naked, stripped, youth took flight
Majestic poem he did write
Finally stopped he sought the light
i Kerouac, Jack and Ginsberg, Allen: The Letters. Ed. Bill Morgan and David Stanford. (New York: Viking) 2010.
ii “Nowhere to Run,” Songwriters: Holland, Edward, Jr., Dozier, James, Herbert Lamont, Holland, Brian, EMI Music
“I love St. Francis of Assisi as well as anybody in the world.” Desolation Angels
Once a sybarite youth and reveler
Dreams and visions and change of heart
Lepers and beggars fevered new start
Francis set to restore his Father’s house
He threw and flung church gold away
Bernardone beat and locked he stayed
Francis turned from father’s ways
And stood there humble, pure, and bare
He wed himself to poverty and fast as fare
To gain heaven nay palace but by hut everlasting
He preached and lived non-violence and reconciliation
Mysticism, holy vows, chasten, tonsured, unshaven
A poor and meek monk and brother
Lover of creatures, creation, and creator
Sought spiritual experiences and lofty visions
Contemplation and stigmata and the Christ in crucifixion
Compassion and forgiveness
Francis was a man of action
And taught by his deeds and sanctification
“Count Basie’s swing arrangements are not blaring, but they contain more drive, more power, and more
thrill than the loudest gang of corn artists can acquire by blowing their horns apart.” i
The Kid from Red Bank
On the River Navesink
Red Bank Boogie
One O’Clock Jump
Stomp and stamp and stump the band
Give the man a mighty hand
Fats Waller knees
William Basie’s simple swing
Keep your flashy bling-bling-bling
Count will swing and swing and ring
Elegant and clean
Meet you on Mechanic Street
Lobster twitching up a leg ii
Mobsters in old Kaycee days
and Jo Jones,
Thad and Mr. Quincy Jones,
Frank (The Kid from Hoboken) once but skin and bones
i McNally, Dennis. Desolate Angel: A Biography, Jack Kerouac, the Beat Generation, and America. (New York:
Random House. 1979). p. 38.
ii Horricks, Raymond. Count Basie and His Orchestra: Its Music and Its Musicians. (New York: The Citadel Press.
1957). p. 23.
Junk is a drag
“It is a way of life.” i
Just ask BOOL
No gains, all loss
(Not everyone as smart as old Harvard Lee, anthropologist)
Junk is called junk because it is junk
“They all looked like junk.” ii
Hope is gone, Esperanza
Replaced with junk
Junk is a drag
Junkies are a drag
Goodbye peachy coffee complexion
Black satin hair
“ . . . I don’t like what it does to people.” iii
i Burroughs, William S. Junky: The definitive text of “Junk.” (New York: Penguin Books. 2003), p. xxxix.
ii Burroughs, William S. Junky: The definitive text of “Junk.” (New York: Penguin Books. 2003), p. 25.
iii Burroughs, William S. Junky: The definitive text of “Junk.” (New York: Penguin Books. 2003), p. 59.