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 very interesting poem by Antler called "Last Words" in which he quotes the most interesting 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 a great 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 was in Chile for several months. She's alive in Chile. I'm still in touch with her.

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 Neal Cassady had made a wrong turn and decided to go backwards on a one-way street. He went, looking solely through the rear-view mirror, weaving through 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 give his regards.

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

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

ALLEN: Well, I am really interested in what do you do with your mind at the moment of death, particularly after you stop breathing. I understand that if you are drowning, there is still about eight minutes without breath in which you can still be brought back. So there still must be some life. Obviously on your deathbed all the struggle and pain is over by the time you stop breathing. You are out, things have stopped, and there is nothing you can do anymore, but you are still conscious on some level. I am always interested in what consciousness is there. What recourse is there?

There is the traditional Buddhist view that at the time of death, Dharma will be my only refuge. Because I create karma, I must abandon evil deeds and always devote my life to virtuous action. Therefore, everyday I will examine myself so that it's a continuous self-examination to make sure I'm not building up and indissoluble barrio that will make me panic because I didn't get things right. Then the question is, what do you remember at the point of death? So many Buddhist practices are preparations for taking off-not panicking, to being bound to look back and trying to rearrange your bookshelf-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