Sitting in Washington Square Park with Allen Ginsberg
the weather utterly autumnal, we are marooned in the moment of being. I offer him a sour candy from my bag of pick-n-mix — $22 of junk which I filed in my budget app under “entertainment”— he waves me away with a leathery hand and a puff of his cigarillo.
See Al, what I’m saying is, I gabble through the sugar, that it’s all too beautiful, too beautiful for me.
He stares his gritty eyes at me, blinks the bullet holes of an ellipse. His head does a slow swivel taking in the present, a trail of smoke from his mouth like steam from a train.
Sitting in the park, we stubbornly persist despite the scratchy nuzzles of the wintry air. I have no candy for him to reject today. Instead, I cradle a black coffee, my hands always greedy for warmth.
How does it feel, I ask, to be part of (I gesticulate wildly) the culture.
Kid, he calls me, one moment you’re here and the next you’re gone like a curdle of smoke.
I shake my head — a reflex of some kind. Ephemerality is poetic but unhelpful (though I still want to know what it takes to be inexplicable). I’ve only just figured out how to be young, I say.
He shrugs, fermented youth is still youth.
I am always here, despite myself.
Ginsberg gets it; I can tell by the way he submits to his own breath.
I saw a play, I tell him. It was about a woman and desire and the ambitions of the city, and how it’s easier to love something beautiful, a cruelty that will look you in the eyes. I stop, will myself to split the thought in two. I am always a finger’s breadth away from a gentle danger.
He asks me, what would you like them to say about you? I cannot think of an answer I do not hate.
That she knew when to shut up…and had great earrings.
Here we are in classic formation: me with a packet of Skittles; him, cigarillo in hand. Al’s in a mood today, though not a bad one. He starts on about Kerouac and fire escapes, Kerouac on the fire escape, nothing more goddamn true than cigarette-smoking Kerouac on the fire escape.
I search the index of my brain for a related story. I tell him about the time when, in fear of fractured maternal vertebrae, I once stepped on the same crack twice hoping two wrongs made better made healed.
He gives me a hard look and pauses for a puff. Our betrayals are halos, he says, like sunsets tinting the crazy golden crown of a —
— Sunflower, I say, I know, I read the sutra.
He looks at me and nods, keep your eyes to the side just a touch, and use the angles to expunge the fear.
I nod back, though I do not follow. Tobacco and sugar.
Sometimes in the park, Ginsberg and I will pick at a carton of blackberries and a bag of sunflower seeds (foods to be shared individually) and spit the shells out for the birds.
Spring is softer than I remember. We sit, punctuating our speech with chewing and shell-spitting. We talk of virtue; we talk of longing and belonging; we talk of the empty desires of the city-slicker, knowing full well that’s what we are.
He sighs, mouth full of blackberry, what could we possibly feed the endless want that it will not immediately metabolize?
We sit in each other’s moment, gnaw our seeds down to fibrous paste, knowing one day the world will ask us for our teeth. We chew the sun down, the ground around us peppered with shells.
This poem was originally published in Grain Magazine in Volume 49.2, Winter 2021.