He walked into the bookstore
as if he had just been giving stage directions to
the actors who were performing in The Beard
and Jean Harlow and Billy the Kid across the street
at the Rep where the titles were featured on
the street marquee in front of the theater. I may
have been twenty-one, and it was one of those
autumn mornings in New Haven in the early to
mid-70s when there was a kind of psychic niacin
in the air, sunlight slanting over the high gothic
of the campus buildings and pouring over
the crenellated edges of the Art & Architecture
building next door. When he entered, he
paused, and momentarily observed conversations
between several academics positioned in front of
the elevated counter where I had
cash register duty, and immediately I recognized
him from the cover photograph of The City Lights
Anthology taken in front of Ferlinghetti’s
bookstore, and he instantly acknowledged
my recognition by placing an index finger to his
lips, alerting me that he was there to purchase
the copy of The New York Times, in his other hand,
and not for the purposes of signing autographs.
There he was, just as in the photograph beneath
the City Lights Bookstore awning, posing with
the other literati, elegant suit jacket over a dark
vest, white shirt buttoned at
the neck, and the dark hair slicked-back,
whom Kerouac fictionalized in Desolation Angels
and Big Sur as the handsome Patrick McLear; who
read with Ginsberg at the Gallery Six reading
only some fifteen years earlier when the first version
of Howl was publicly declaimed; who had already
written poems honoring the animal world and
their sounds in Dark Brown and Ghost Tantras; and
who just had composed a version of Me
and Bobbie McGee on his autoharp for Janis Joplin
no more than five years before. Here was the man,
whom San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen
had called The Prince of San Francisco, standing before
me with two quarters in his hand to buy a copy of
the daily Times. Our eyes had kept focused
on each other’s as he wended politely through
the conversants discussing The Canterbury Tales and
Troilus and Cressida, whereupon
he placed the coins in my hand, and then
winked, nodding his head slightly, with a coy smile,
as if to say that we both had fooled them all, and
in such a nonchalant fashion, that no one was either
better or worse off for it. However, that specific
wink is the same sparkle of a pearl occasionally
found in a shucked oyster; the sequins lighting up
in the curl of a wave before it crashes on the shore;
the glitter of snow blown off the roof of a barn;
that has remained with me now for more than
forty years, and that underlies this hymn with song.
"Distant View of Kinryuzan Temple and Azuma Bridge"
The cherry blossoms floating in the wind
Remind me of Hiroshige’s woodblock
Of the pleasure quarter in old Kyoto.
The air thick with what is unseen beyond their activity,
Such vibrant gladness--
Their petals all dreams disappearing into the light of day,
What delight it is to be human,
To have newsprint on our fingers!
How well we are aware of the spirit’s poverty
That sometimes fills us to surfeit, especially
In our holding true to the muse of what we see,
In what we hear—in falling, windblown cherry blossoms.
The Secret Cabin
Footprints lead to the secret cabin,
which indicates that once it did exist--
the secret cabin existed just like the footprints,
on the path of practicing the art of alchemy.
Poets may think they only need a trail map
to locate the cabin. Any alchemist
worth his metal wouldn’t give a map
to a poet, since following a path
makes it impossible to find the secret cabin,
even if there are footprints leading up the trail.
An alchemist skilled in practicing his art
may be able to turn the lead of our lives into
the gold of our transformation. That is
no secret. A map is of no use for a poet.
Not wanting it to sing too loudly,
Or for it to fly away,
Is learning what it is that is
Taking residence in the heart.
Not desiring to hold onto it,
Not wanting for it to dissipate,
Is how the presence in the heart
Requests to be honored,
The visitor making itself known
By the murmurs of its rustling.
It is what propels the fountain
Of it in keeping its arcing waters
From ebbing, only if
By resisting what the heart
Yearns for, even slightly, which
Is why the heart leaps amid
All of its windy fluttering.
Your loveliness is as sinuous
As the colloquy of birdsong
On a summer morning.
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