Philomene Long has always had a preference for the extreme. She has preferred the company of a St. Francis of Assisi, taking his clothes off in public, or a Joan of Arc, who heard voices and dressed in men's clothing, has preferred to live among the poets, saints and mad ones of Venice West, with those who live a life of dedicated poverty.
Because Philomene has believed in the Beatitudes, "Blessed are the poor in spirit" (or "emptiness" in Zen terms), she has power. She has: once stood in the center of a room on fire without one strand of hair being singed; once accidentally drank twice the lethal dose of a deadly poison and lived; has raised up this three hundred pound author and thrown him across a bed; has limbered her way out of his impossible-to-break wrestler's cradle hold; has chased a rapist off Venice Beach, his engorged penis still in his hand. During the great Los Angeles earthquake of 1994, she stood upright (in order to feel the force of it through the souls of her feet) and her feet glowed. At this moment, as I write, she glows.
Her mother had come to New York from Ireland, as a young woman, to be a writer.She is of Irish royalty -- in itself nearly enough to recognize the call to poetry. Philomene was born in Greenwich Village, which in those days was full of poets and saints of Art, writing and painting, carousing and leaping out of windows. At age fifteen she was struck by the Muse and began writing poems. At eighteen she became a nun, cloistered in a convent atop a mountain high above Los Angeles. After five years of living in an enclosure of silence she escaped down the side of a mountain in the middle of the night into the world of angelheaded hipsters and Zen saints of Venice West where she became the Queen of Bohemia.
She, mind you, still follows her vocation, still considers herself a nun.
She was Stuart Perkoff's muse figure and love at the end of his life.She studied Zen for twenty-one years with Taizan Maezumi Roshi, until his death in 1985, and for nearly two decades she has studied patience and tolerance, employing me as her practice subject.Now, she is also a kind of Zen priestess.
How does Philomene live?
Which means, since we're together, how do we live?
The life of art (Art?), the life of dedicated poverty. And she said it well: that "the love is our religion, the only religion there is; and that no matter how weak and wrong-headed we are, it will always take us back to itself."
Philomene is a poet.A great poet. I envy her genius.
Her genuis on the page: the words get in the way.
What else should I tell you of Philomene?
Something she doesn't like my speaking of, so perhaps I'll sneak this passage in without showing it to her. Philomene is a woman of amazing and seemingly imperishable beauty. And she is my muse. Poetry is my passion - as is, of course, my muse and lady, Philomene.
Yeats said somewhere (speaking of his writing) that he hoped to 'go empty into the grave.' Not I. My wish would be to fall dead on my face, pen on paper, or in Philomene's embrace.
Or, (admittedly difficult to arrange) both at once.
Do you remember "All Quiet on the Western Front"?
About World War One?
Not the Remarque novel, but the early movie that was made of it. Right near the end, the German soldier (played by Lew Ayres) is huddled miserably in a trench. He sees a butterfly alight on the ground beyond, in no man's land. It sits there, slowly opening and closing its wings. Ayres, the young infantryman, is fascinated. Peace and beauty, resting on the blasted, ruined earth of war -- and just within his reach.He rises up a bit, slightly exposing himself, slowly stretches out his hand to capture it ... CRACK! A French sniper in the opposing trench shoots him dead. His hand quivers and goes limp, just short of the lovely thing.
Then, at the very end of the film, you see the ghosts of Lew and all his dead kameraden march slowly by. As they pass, each in turn looks out at you and smiles sadly.
I know that if you ever saw "All Quiet on the Western Front," you remember those two images. Heavily sentimental, but they pierce the heart. I wept when I first saw the film at age seven, wept again at eight, three times at twelve. Every time since.
Sure, some of these Beats still live,
but as I write this -
in a state of antique melancholy,
I see them walk by - each and all
they pass one by one
look down at me and smile
and I weep.
Kameraden, hail and farewell.
© 2003 - John Thomas