Being Michael Brownstein
We exit the underground at Penn Station,
determined to walk, if only to breathe out
the stench of urine from our Long Island lungs.
She suggests we stop at Gotham Book Mart.
I spend two hundred dollars on books and then
realize I have no way to transport them.
She guards them while I hunt for a backpack.
I return to give words a piggyback ride
and we are off again, blowing out more stink,
tiny, inconspicuous exhalations,
the same ones we use when we’re around smokers.
We listen to the city speak through car horns
and the rattling left front wheels of shopping carts
pushed by homeless men collecting bottles
and the bumming and humming and the drumming
of axels meeting potholes and the buskers
who fill the night with dreams and the madman
in the second-story tenement who shouts
that his daughter ruined his nap—or his crap—
by forgetting her key, again! and then
we enter St. Mark’s Church in the Bowery.
So many poets whose names I don’t know,
whose work I would come to admire this night.
And then the snaggle-toothed Ginsberg labors in,
walking straight and sideways at the same time;
Corso is in tow, drunk, his eyes on me.
“Michael!” he says. “Al! It’s Michael Brownstein!”
“That’s not Michael, Greg,” Ginsberg says, amused.
Now Corso has his arm around me. “Michael.”
I tell him my name is Tom, but there is no
convincing him. He sits beside me, takes out
a small blue notebook from his back pocket
and proceeds to write a poem, just like that.
When he is called to the mic, he reads that poem.
I want Ginsberg to read “Howl.” He doesn’t.
The poetry is sensory overload
from the straight-forward drone, the academic,
and the readers to the performers. The jazz.
I don’t know if I’m seeing birth or rebirth,
but if a saint were buried beneath the church,
he would have leaned on one elbow to listen.
Then a man who I’ve never met but who looks
familiar—like me in about ten years—
walks over and Corso stares at him and then
at me. I say, “You must be Michael Brownstein.”
We shake hands and Corso is mesmerized.
Walking back to Penn Station, we wonder,
my friend and I, if we witnessed a reading
or something historic: the end of an age.
But somewhere, perhaps in Bellingham or
Boise or Broken Arrow, a poet
is writing while keeping time to John Coltrane
or Miles Davis with both her feet, and the beat
of the heart of a generation pulses
like a complete crescendo orgasm.