CONVERSATION ON DEATH

ALLEN GINSBERG & PHILOMENE LONG THOMAS
Photo Jay D. Kugelman

 

PHILOMENE: What do you think would be your last words?

ALLEN: I wouldn't even.. I haven't thought of it. There is a veryinteresting poem by Antler called "Last Words" in which he quotes the mostinteresting last words of everybody. Do you know the poem?

PHILOMENE: It's a preoccupation with me - people's last words.

ALLEN: Really? Look up this poem. It's this great poem which is agreat collection of last words like "It is cooked already" said somebody,or "Oops!" or "Is this happening to me?" or "Is it really me?"

(Laughter)

PHILOMENE: Huidobro wanted to see his own image ...

ALLEN: Vicente Huidobro?

PHILOMENE: Yes.

ALLEN: Really?

PHILOMENE: Yes. He wanted to see his own image while he died. Yes.Asked for a mirror to be held up.

ALLEN: No kidding? Very conscious guy. Do you know his writing?

PHILOMENE: Yes. THE poet.

ALLEN: I spent many months with his ex-girlfriend in Chile.

PHILOMENE: You mean Rachel?

ALLEN: Raquel. She was a great friend and protectress when I wasin Chile for several months. She's alive in Chile. I'm still in touch withher.

PHILOMENE: My husband John Thomas was in a car with Neal Cassad..

ALLEN: I know John Thomas. The big guy. How is he? Say hello.

PHILOMENE: I will. Well, he was in the car with Neal Cassady and NealCassady had made a wrong turn and decided to go backwards on a one-waystreet. He went, looking solely through the rear-view mirror, weavingthrough car after car, and carrying on four simultaneous conversations..

ALLEN: Sounds a little exaggerated

PHILOMENE: (Laughter)

ALLEN: ... but not too much.

PHILOMENE: John Thomas also said, if you see Philip Whalen to givehis regards.

ALLEN: You know Philip Whalen is now the abbot of the HartfordStreet Zen Center?

PHILOMENE: Oh, he is..Ah.. Allen, In the light of Buddhism, how do youlook at death?

ALLEN: Well, I am really interested in what do you do with yourmind at the moment of death, particularly after you stop breathing. Iunderstand that if you are drowning, there is still about eight minuteswithout breath in which you can still be brought back. So there still mustbe some life. Obviously on your deathbed all the struggle and pain is overby the time you stop breathing. You are out, things have stopped, and thereis nothing you can do anymore, but you are still conscious on some level. Iam always interested in what consciousness is there. What recourse is there?

There is the traditional Buddhist view that at the time of death, Dharmawill be my only refuge. Because I create karma, I must abandon evil deedsand always devote my life to virtuous action. Therefore, everyday I willexamine myself so that it's a continuous self-examination to make sure I'mnot building up and indissoluble barrio that will make me panic because Ididn't get things right. Then the question is, what do you remember at thepoint of death? So many Buddhist practices are preparations for takingoff-not panicking, to being bound to look back and trying to rearrange yourbookshelf-but going out with a clean slate.

PHILOMENE: Yes.

ALLEN: Did anybody -- I wonder if anybody taped yesterday?

PHILOMENE: Did somebody?

ALLEN: They never think of it. Not realizing the words of wisdom..

PHILOMENE: Right!


Allen Ginsberg & Philomene Long Thomas