To get caught up, read the first installment of The Jack Kerouac School(girl) of Disembodied Poetics.
2. Dark-Eyed Brunette (continued)
Let me get straight to the rough stuff. When did the dirty deeds begin and who was involved? Was the ending happy or sad? Were Hollywood yes-men a part of the plot, did feathered or furry creatures feature, any rags or riches, and what about Love?
First, some key persons in the mix:
My newborn footprints were inked onto parchment at a tiny clinic. Katherine Alison Engaine Winfield-Burns. A brunette with dark eyes.
Mr. Frank, my lawyer grandfather and Miss Mamie, his wife.
Robert Franklin, my elder brother (Frank and Mamie’s grandson).
Mr. Frank’s daughter Dora and her husband Robert (a heavy-boned Bertha Rochester sort of woman and an unwholesome namesake of the poet Robert Burns), parents who blighted my earliest youth.
Weedhopper, a silk-eared, short-haired red dachshund.
Allen Ginsberg, a poet who altered the landscape of American poetry, shattering Supreme Court obscenity laws with one poem: “Howl.”
My two godmothers in Rome: Abbess Ildegarde Ghinassi (Order of St. Benedict), a Catholic nun; Lady Jeanne ‘Jeannie’ Campbell, daughter of the 11th Duke of Argyll and grand-daughter of Lord Beaverbrook (Canadian-born British newspaper owner in Churchill’s War Cabinet). Jeannie was also an ex-wife of author Norman Mailer.
Lambish, a silvery-grey pigeon living on campus at Columbia University in the City of New York.
Jake Seuss, a brooding intellectual with sculpted mouth, strong chin, slim build, pretty knees and a lemon-colored birthmark on his left cheek: the most enthralling of his sex, but apt to dissemble.
A mouse named Rose Alba and a water bug (giant cockroach) named Heathcliff in Harlem.
Villains, lechers, pedophiles, meanies, and bitter-spirited poops cropping up year after year, ready to quench life’s happiness.
Dad, also known as ‘God the Father.’
The woman who raised me as her daughter in bonds of motherly love was my godmother, the Abbess Ildegarde Ghinassi. She was an abbess to cloistered nuns in Rome for more than forty-five years and foundress of multiple monasteries in Africa, South America, and India. I called her Madrina. Madrina taught me to see a better vision of humanity, how Paradise exists within our hearts. Madrina was born in Tuscany, in the year 1919. She did not speak English. When I went to live with her in Rome, I learned Italian.
Conversely, my birth mother’s family had been lawyers and politicians—the highest-ranking was Assistant Attorney General in the Truman Administration. As a kid, I read letters he’d written to Mamie about parties in Florida at Ethel Kennedy’s house with actor Peter Lawford and Jack Kennedy. Letters full of scandal, the kind my sweetheart Jake Seuss now writes about for magazines.
I am a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), an historical society for female descendants of Revolutionary War soldiers. My ancestors rode in the light-horse cavalry as a teenagers in 1776. I’m descended down a line of eldest sons. Maybe I was born to be brave. Stalwart under siege.
One good thing I remember about my childhood with Dora was picking together scuppernong grapes in summertime. The grapes crushed muscadine-sweet against my tongue.
But something was wrong with Dora. Any good she did me or my brother was outweighed by the harm she inflicted. When she wounded my brother, jumping on him, wrapping her whole body around him, beating, I recognized grave distress. I was too young to help him.
Dora phoned a junk collector to haul away select pieces of home furnishings saying, “Nobody wants it.”
I cried, kissing my great-grandmother’s rare pre-Civil War piano’s ivory keys farewell. The carved mahogany Baldwin upright with watered silk interior and velvet-topped piano stool were trash to Dora.
3. Cross-Armed Sphinx
Reader Road Map: the long ago Gothic South. Current Events: disappearance of Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa and the advent of Rock and Roll. News Topic: racial protests.
I was born in glaring bigotry. The Jim Crow South, North Carolina, 1962. Racial prejudice stood like a cross-armed sphinx, blocking better days.
In 1864, General Sherman had burned the city of Atlanta, Georgia to the ground. One hundred years later, the 1960’s South remained a place of dangerous mood.
As a young girl, I did not understand cruelty. Dixie broke my heart—Dixieland on her knees, verandas falling to pieces: mean attitudes, uneducated swaths of population, spite and lethargy. My grandmother Mamie taught me to envision the South as a place of social graces, but that was not the South of my babyhood.
Congressional land grants to my Scottish family for services in the American Revolution meant each ancestor I had thereafter was born a Southerner. In the War Between the States (America’s Civil War), my great-great-grandfathers fought as Confederate soldiers. What were they fighting to achieve? What are all wars about, and indeed every sort of worldly corruption, if not fear and money?
I remember playing with a dollhouse built by a Civil War veteran. He had made it for Dora when she was a little girl. It was a two-story house with porches painted white and green. I had dolls with porcelain heads and hand-painted hair, their bodies stuffed with gin-pulled cotton. Dora threw the finely-stitched vintage doll clothes away and hired a seamstress to fabricate chunky, polyester doll-dresses of coarse design.
When a Saturn V rocket launched the crew of Apollo 8 into orbit around the Earth’s moon for Christmas, I watched the blast-off with Weedhopper. The television had rabbit-ear antennae (two extendable metal rods).
On black and white screens across America, Martin Luther King Jr. proclaimed, “I have a dream” to see the South, even the planet, transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
In elementary school, I read every book in my classroom. I loved to read. I read about Theodore Roosevelt and the Rough Riders. I wrote a report about cancer. I crafted amoebae out of uncooked pasta shells glued to pink construction paper and painted the pasta yellow using water-based primary pigments stored in glass jars with screw lids. I was a straight A student, but Dora told everyone I got bad grades. When she ranted like a madwoman, I hid beneath a couch and didn’t come out even if she called out for me. She and an aunt chased each other with butcher knives.
Visiting my grandfather’s house, I listened to the Beatles sing “Revolution” over a transistor radio. I wondered how grown men could fit inside a radio, but my grandfather’s stony silence prohibited idle questioning. He smoked unfiltered Camel cigarettes, one after the other, flicking them alight with a silver lighter.
While I explored his house of antiquated treasures, my grandfather sat in a dining room, which he’d turned into an invalid’s refuge. Sometimes he sat next to a heavy oxygen tank, tubes inserted into his nostrils.
With its polished woods and dark recesses, I liked his parlor. I read his books by a hearth with no fire. I wore a white leather Native American Indian dress, fringed along the skirt and my hair parted in the middle. My headband had feathers. My brother wore a brown cowboy outfit to visit our grandmother, Mamie. We took turns visiting our grandparents because Mamie and Frank refused to be in the same house together. (If I was spending a night at our grandfather’s house, then my brother slept at Mamie’s.) My brother and I loved visiting our grandparents. We wished we lived with them.
My grandfather’s parlor bookcase held a 1920s color-plated edition of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland.” Englishman John Tenniel had drawn Alice as a long-necked blonde and his illustrations were better than text. On the cover, bound in black cloth, were Alice and the White Rabbit. I was reading “Alice,” but I looked like Pocahontas.
My grandfather had attended law school during the Jazz Age and Prohibition. Prohibition in America meant the sale of alcohol was illegal. People bootlegged (made bathtub gin) and drank at speakeasies. A speakeasy was an unlicensed bar or ‘speak softly shop’ where customers could buy and drink alcohol in secret.
A 1927 yearbook described Mr. Frank, the young man: “His sparkling brown eyes would make Socrates turn over and blush with envy.” My grandfather parted his hair in the middle. He was born a Victorian but came of age in the Roaring Twenties. He had full, white hair, which had once been the deep auburn of my brother’s. His affinity for the past schooled my taste for the old and the by-gone. He wore a black suit, fine white shirt and black tie every day.
My grandfather liked to eat peanuts from the shell. Sometimes they were roasted and othertimes he ate them raw. He bought both varieties in fifty-pound burlap bags from a local farmer. My grandfather drove his black Oldsmobile to the outskirts of town to buy big urns of buttermilk from a man who owned dairy cows. Looking for ice cream in a back freezer, I once found a cooked squirrel in my grandfather’s refrigerator, jellied in a bit of gravy. He’d shot the squirrel from a rocking chair on the front porch of his house, cooked it, and put it in a pretty bit of china to eat later.
If I had been older, I would have felt compassion for my grandfather, living alone as he did. I hope he had good dinners. He was a bachelor by the time I came along because Mamie had relocated to a cottage up the road after my grandfather tried to strangle her. I think if he had marched up to her tiny new house and claimed her, she would have returned to him. But he was very proud. She was prouder still. Her real house, the one of her maidenhood, with octagonal double-deckered verandas, had fallen down by then, unused and ignored.
When Weedhopper and I visited my grandfather, we explored the exciting grounds surrounding his house. I dug beneath rocks to find arrowheads, roly poly bugs, lichen, soft moss, earthworms, and fallen acorn caps (to use as dollhouse bowls). I strolled with Weedhopper to pluck sweet plums from fruit trees behind my grandfather’s house. The fruits’ aromatic skins were thin and of dark wine-coloration, with a cherry-tart taste. Their plum-flesh was like nectar. Biting into the small fruits meant juices pouring down my chin, but I ate them anyway and got sticky. The instense plum flavor became sharper up against their almond-shaped pits.
Townspeople feared my grandfather. Nobody dared to take plums from his untended orchard. All that decadence, year after year of sugary bounty, rotted over the ground.
I liked to pick leaves to adorn my grandfather’s head; he sat smoking cigarettes in solitude. I wanted to see how long it would take him to detect the garlands.
I learned to type at his 1920s Royal typewriter. He had a case of red-leather law books and Federal and Antebellum furniture that he kept safe from junkmen. Jewel-toned velvets. Loveseats. Platform rockers with footstools. A fainting couch. I never fainted, but the couch was cozy with Weedhopper at my side. The parlor smelled like books and cotton velvet. Everything carved and crafted and gorgeous and in the act of vanishing forever.
Visiting my grandmother Mamie was of equal adventure, but different. Where my grandfather was silent, she was full of embracing solicitation.
Her hair was the color of mouse fur. She had large breasts and sloping eyelids. She wore dresses, never slacks. Mamie wore a wide, rose gold wedding band and an amethyst ring set with seed pearls. The stone was an Edwardian cabochon, fashioned before gems were artificially altered by irradiation techniques.
I enjoyed asking Mamie to sing a mesmerizing lullaby: “Baby’s bed a silver moon. Sail baby sail, out across the sea, only don’t forget to sail back again to me.” And she told me stories, sometimes about rabid dogs from her childhood. Men had carried revolvers. Dangerous tracts of land surrounded Mamie’s old plantation manor house. Vaccine campaigns weren’t implemented until the 1940’s and people were somewhat lawless in the South.
Like my grandfather, Mamie was born at the end of the Victorian Era. Mamie told stories about men who contracted rabies after being bitten by dogs. She said infected men were chained to trees.
“Did you see anyone chained?”
“Yes,” Mamie said, unwrapping butterscotch candies from her purse.
Mamie’s oldest sister was named Alice. “Mean Al,” Mamie said people had called her. Al had one child, a daughter. Alice Julia. Alice Julia received a lobotomy in the 1930’s and Al authorized the surgery. Mamie told me Alice Julia was raped by bootleggers on her father’s property and the scandal made Al mad.
When Alice Julia came to my grandfather’s house on rare day trips, we sat in the parlor. We smiled and she drank chocolate milkshakes. Alice Julia’s blue eyes had daffodil centers. I thought her eyes looked like golden explosions of buckshot going off inside her head.
A mental institution doctor had operated to disable Alice Julia’s ability to weep, doing something to her tear ducts, Mamie said. And Alice Julia was sterilized to prevent conception since rapes were commonplace on the wards. She was committed there for life. This was the South of my childhood.
Child abuse, forced lobotomies, sexual assaults and sporadic lynchings were not considered outrages against society and I grew up in this sea of brutal badness. Al was already dead, but I remember seeing my Mamie’s remaining sisters, Sue and Johnsie. They stood in my grandfather’s kitchen holding cups of tea. Sue and Johnsie had circles beneath their eyes. Timid creatures, their mouths opened in small ‘o’ shapes like in Munch’s painting “The Scream.” (Mamie’s older sisters were born in the late 1800’s, growing up ‘waited on hand and foot’ by former slaves.)
Mamie’s grandfather had been killed in 1862 fighting Union troops, leaving a three-year old son, Mamie’s father. Mamie’s father became a professional photographer and his pictures revealed to me the faces of my dead relatives. I saw Mamie’s mother, Pretty Ma.
When I was born, soft-spoken Cora was hired to nurse me, seated in my grandfather’s red velvet chair. Cora lived with her husband Harmon in a tar-paper shack on the edge of town. “Colored town,” my grandparents said.
One morning, Cora awoke to a cross, burned into her meager lawn. Once-strong Harmon, after a life of relentless labor and morbidity, lay confined to his bed—he couldn’t confront the Ku Klux Klan. The KKK.
There is a love in my heart for the romanticism of the Confederacy because of my long-standing association with the region, most markedly from the stories told me by my grandmother. But I have no love of prejudice or entitlement-based lifestyles.
As a kid, I walked through fields of cotton, touching the soft, creamy balls to see what they were like. ‘King Cotton’ they had called it before the War Between the States, King Cotton as far as the eye could see.
Mamie had once stored blank postcards in one of my grandfather’s desk drawers and I found them. Black and white photos on thick postcard showed laborers in a field and workers driving a horse and buggy filled with cotton. The cards were colorized in pinks, greens, and fluffy-white for the cotton bolls. The people were tinted black like Vaudeville minstrels.
I witnessed Jim Crow Laws in the town where I was born. “White Only,” read the signs. Racial markers were as ordinary as Stop, Yield and Go traffic signs.
One summer, I drank grape Fanta out of a glass bottle at a local shop. I was allowed to have soda that day because my grandmother wanted a Coca-Cola. Mamie said she felt faint and the cola steadied her. (In Mamie’s flapper days, the Coca-Cola recipe contained cocaine. At my grandmother’s dinner table, we drank sweetened iced tea with crushed mint leaves or sliced lemons, but never soda pop.)
A group of young children on the segregated side of the store stood in their bare feet, looking over, watching me drink that Fanta. They wore ragged clothes. Their hair was matted. I had on an ocean-blue organza dress and a matching parasol. They could see me through a hole in the shop’s partition wall.
There were separate churches and burial grounds for each race in the little town where my grandparents lived. A ‘Colored’ church and a ‘White’ church.
My grandfather used to keep shacks on his property, housing families, with blankets for doors and windowpanes made of oiled paper. These people were hired for next to nothing to do house or yard work.
Before he died, he began dressing in pajamas and bedroom slippers. He carried a gold pocket watch, even when wearing his pajamas. My grandfather died in 1974. He lay in his coffin wearing a black suit and white shirt. I put my hand on his abdomen. It felt squishy. His body was filled with embalming fluid. He wasn’t wearing his ruby and diamond ring.
Handsome men I’d never seen before stood talking quietly. They looked like Hollywood movie stars. But they were just a bunch of racists gathered together to discuss money.
My grandfather willed me Gulf Oil and Duke Power stock and ten thousand dollars cash to accrue interest for my education, making Dora executrix. She proved an executor full of tricks. Dora and Robert took all the funds within a year and wolfed my brother’s identical inheritance, too, although my grandfather had left them his wealth’s bulkiness and a house in town. Many years later, attending Columbia University, I starved, worked every holiday and graduated in financial ruin. But I smiled, knowing my grandfather had paid for my college, at least in his heart.
Mamie’s death followed soon after my grandfather’s. She was nearly blind from cataracts, but had just completed a book, written completely by hand. Not a soul has ever read that book. Mamie died a passenger in a car crash en route to a seafood restaurant at a crossroads in Siler City (a small town where lived ‘Aunt Bea’ of the “Andy Griffith Show”).
As a child in the South, I dreamed I could fly. I dreamed I was invisible. I dreamed I lived on ceilings instead of floors. I wanted out of Dora’s reach. She could have the money. I felt strong enough to leave with nothing. I felt money had no meaning. Love is what held value.
Historically, Art has a way of showing itself in times of heartache: the 14th century Italian Renaissance emerged from Europe’s pandemic of Black Death; the Blues had leapt forth from the womb of an enslaved Mississippi. And when it came my turn to exit Dixieland, I was a budding poet and painter.
Beat poet founder Lucien Carr said naked self-expression is the root of creativity for artists. Carr attended Columbia University in the City of New York some fifty years before me, spearheading a cultural phenomenon known as the Beat Generation.
Columbia University is a member of private educational institutions founded in early America known as the Ivy League. The Ivy League includes Brown University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University and Yale University. Fifty-five years after handsome Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Carr, I attended Columbia. Girded by high iron gates, Columbia seemed to me an enchanted forest at the top of Manhattan. Inside the enclosed campus were doves, white roses, blue hydrangea bushes and buildings supported by marble columns.
The Beat Generation poets were directly in front of subsequent personalities such as Marlon Brando and James Dean. Beats were artist-intellectuals who chose to be societal mavericks, pariahs, for the sake of Art. In 1945, the Beats were a close-knit few and all from Columbia University: Jack Kerouac, Lucien Carr and Allen Ginsberg: coolest of triumvirates.
Jack Kerouac famously authored “On the Road,” a novel about driving back and forth across the United States while high on amphetamines (based on actual journeys Kerouac had shared with Beat icon/cowboy Neal Cassady). When Kerouac died, his literary estate was valued at one US dollar. Kerouac was like painter Vincent van Gogh; both perished penniless, their works esteemed by future generations to be of great merit.
After graduating from Columbia, Allen Ginsberg wrote the poem “Howl” and the poem changed American obscenity laws at the level of the Supreme Court. “Howl” begins: “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked….”
Innovative art is frequently misunderstood. In scientific terms, artists exist in a state of disequilibrium. Researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (where the Mars Rovers were built) hypothesized that’s how life began on Earth: chemical disequilibrium on the seafloor. Little bits different from the rest, sparking creation.
Action. Art. Convulsive or not at all.
S. Samyro was the anagram used by Dada avant-garde founder Samuel Rosenstock (aka Tristan Tzara). Rosenstock was a poet who went around snatching the clothes off clouds. He was a clarion of joy, bereft of all poison, forerunning the Surrealists, painters of melted clocks. Beat poets were big fans of the Dadaists. But when the Dada movement emerged, the world at large considered Dada incomprehensible.
I am not a Beat poet or Dadaist, but Beat poets were my first teachers, themselves learning much from Samuel Rosenstock. My artistic voice is all my own.
I interweave Homeless Newsreels between chapters of my memoir, writing in the present tense. I hope to provide readers with a sense of real-time participation, awaiting the return of Jake Seuss, up all night, writing, in brightly lit, marble-floored Columbia University’s Butler Library.
I couldn’t shower, wearing day and night the same long, black skirt. I bathed arm by arm, subversively, in a Butler Library bathroom sink. How this all fell out is a complicated story.
I became engaged to Jake Seuss in 2010. Over a span of weeks and months, we discussed betrothal ceremonies of many different types, but when the moment crystallized, we were sitting at a table for two. A guitar trio played sentimental music beside our restaurant table.
“My dad was a sweet guy named Seymour and he loved this song,” Jake Seuss said.
I murmured at my sweetheart’s ear. “Are you certain you want to be engaged to me? Absolutely sure?”
“God, yes!” He threw back his head, crowing like a rooster at the frisky dawn of mankind. Our waitress dropped a glass, crashing it to pieces around our table. I couldn’t eat a bite, I was so enchanted by the love of my sweetheart.
But almost immediately, Jake Seuss began to undertake extended, unexplained absences. He’d leave me waiting, with no warning. “I know it looks like that,” my betrothed said, “but I hope you don’t ever feel abandoned.”
Jake Seuss hid our betrothal like a State Secret. He’d return to collect me, if I had the patience (“of the saint I fear you are,” he said) to wait.
My waiting turned out not to be our problem. I waited until (and then while) I was homeless in Manhattan, sheltered by my alma mater, Columbia University. The manipulative jealousy—and envy—of other people proved to be the fang in our pudding.
4. Homeless Newsreel
Reader Road Map: homeless, 2012-2014
In pouring rain, I fall at four in the morning on Broadway in Manhattan, close to a curb. Face down, my cheek to one side.
I push my torso up out of the road. Sleep deprivation has atrophied my arms. I am as weak as a newborn.
I fall. Hard. Slamming down.
I get up again, both palms on the pavement, my elbows bent.
I fall. Harder. Three times.
When I get up, I run. The subway is just ahead and I want out of the rain. I’m going back to Columbia.
I’ve been homeless for one year, but still don’t know what to do with myself at the witching hour when late night becomes too late and dawn is still an hour away.
I would’ve been unhurt, if I had stayed down. But as with great boxers, staying down for a count is hard to stomach. It goes against the courage of the human soul.
A man stares at me on the subway while I text Jake Seuss. My sweetheart is truant, but knows what transpires via mutual correspondence.
When I reach Columbia, I find out why the passenger across from me sat gaping. My face is bloodied. Officer Kerry, a Columbia Security guard, calls the University’s ambulance service operated by students and boys rush inside Butler Library wheeling a stretcher cot.
“I am an alumna,” thinking perhaps Columbia restricts rescue services to currently enrolled students.
“That’s okay. You are one of us and you are in the Library,” Officer Kerry says, helping me. I only recently found out his real name. When I was an undergrad, he’d told me his name Mr. Midnight, which is what I thought it really was. Mr. Midnight watches over the front door of Butler Library with a sunny disposition towards students.
In Butler Library, swans decorate the ceiling. The Library is a cake carved in stone: black and white diamonded flooring; leather, studded doors with brass handles; chandeliers that suspend like transparent wine caskets, Olympic torch basins, flaming wreaths and stars; marble door jetties; leaded-glass windows; and millions of delicious books, including original New Yorker and TIME magazines from the 1920’s, when TIME was really TIME (with editor-genius Briton Hadden).
At Columbia, Security are officers and gentlemen.
5. Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics (JKS) Schoolgirl
(Blue Silk Chiffon)
Road Map: 1979-1982. Current Events: Iran hostage crisis; Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie arrested in Vienna; John Lennon assassinated. News Topic: racial protests.
On broader horizons, NASA spacecraft Voyager 1 zoomed to the edge of the solar system to reveal Jupiter’s planetary rings. The United States of America (USA) and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) were the World’s lone two Superpowers, chilling each other with their Cold War. University of Michigan’s radical student group Weather Underground had disbanded, but former Weathermen teamed up with the Black Liberation Army to make headlines.
These and other news items came to my adolescent attention via newspapers and television or radio broadcast. My bedroom inside Dora’s house hosted the round mahogany table that had for decades supported the elbows of my grandfather. Seated at his table, in a cane-bottomed dining chair made of pecan wood, I read everything I could gather. I read half a dozen texts at one time, devouring the contents like bon-bons.
Publisher William Randolph Hearst’s granddaughter Patty (recently released from prison) had been kidnapped by revolutionaries and joined them in crime sprees. Patty Hearst was splashy news.
Abbie Hoffman from the University of California at Berkeley surrendered to police in 1980 for his role in various protest activities associated with groups like the Yippies and the Black Panthers. I was revolutionary-minded, but looking for something more artistic and less militarized.
I heard folk and rock music songs about people working in factories. The hippie vibe was strong among America’s youth; I felt called to break free from my socially bigoted heritage. A fearlessness grew in my heart regarding labor and poverty. I decided I would go out into the world and seek my fortune like in the tales my grandmother had read to me. I was willing to work, and work hard, for my bread. I would set forth to find the meaning of happiness, as had all the youths I’d read about in the Lang fairy-tale books.
I was a teenager in North Carolina when I read City Lights Pocket Poets paperback, “Howl.” Reading Ginsberg at my grandfather’s round table, my heart torched in kindred flame. Beat poets were the revolutionaries I wanted!
“Howl,” a slim book, conjured in me the spunk to find Allen Ginsberg. I practiced my handwriting in Gothic and Copperplate scripts and wrote a letter of inquiry to Naropa Institute’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics (JKS) in Boulder, Colorado. Instead of completing high school, I decided to enroll at JKS. The School answered quickly, reviving me like Kentucky bluegrass.
It’s hard to imagine such a place as the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics really existed, but it did. Unaccredited and obscure, tucked away at 1111 Pearl Street above a bar that served alcohol.
People used the full name of the School back then, although now it’s known as Jack Kerouac School. The fuller name had meaning. ‘Disembodied’ implied spirituality. The revolution going on at JKS was one of Art and Literature. Allen Ginsberg named the School after his college comrade Jack Kerouac.
Kerouac had been a good-looking kid with a Columbia football scholarship, an expansive mind, and loads of personal charm. He also had a heavy drug problem, which was Kerouac’s eventual downfall, but not before he helped to create the Beat literary genre. I read about them and saw them standing half-naked in black and white photographs. They looked happy and good-spirited. Welcoming and friendly.
I carried a blue portable Olivetti typewriter with me on my journey to Boulder and a few dresses. I traveled alone. I arrived in January, during a Rocky Mountain snowfall. I knocked at the door of a brick house on Tenth Street, as pre-arranged by JKS administrators. A Christmas tree stood in the house’s front room, silver tinsel fallen everywhere. My rented bedroom was upstairs and had a walk-in closet, in the shape of a square. The closet’s window seemed like a painting, with a sunset view of the Flatirons and the base of the Rockies. The window was a single glass pane, opening with a latch and swinging horizontally like a door.
I decided to sleep on a mattress inside the closet and use the bedroom area as a writing studio. I set up my portable typewriter, ready to become a poet. My bedroom windows faced Tenth Street. This detail proved significant for a certain Romeo, Jake Seuss. He could woo me from beneath my windows, but not yet. We didn’t meet right away. My first friends were poets Larry Fagin and Michael Brownstein. Both the JKS faculty and my Buddhist housemates embraced me in friendship. I was happy from day one.
I knew death had come to Kerouac in 1969, a full decade before I attended JKS, but students heard about Kerouac’s vivid exploits from Allen Ginsberg. Sharing and caring, Ginsberg gave generously. He was a wonderful, exciting teacher. His poetry and teaching style, deeply personal. Sincere. Genuine. Truthful. For these attributes, Ginsberg was universally respected.
“Bohemia is a very old lifestyle,” Allen Ginsberg lectured. “A longing for feminine bliss, and at the same time a fear of it.”