An Evening With Allen
by Dan Nielsen
The bell over the door sounded. It was a Greenwich Village kosher health food store. Saul worked there. It closed at seven. It was quarter past. The door had been locked. Saul opened it to let Robert in. He must not have relocked it. Robert turned his head toward the sound and saw Allen Ginsberg.
Allen said, “Saul, I was wondering if you’d like to stop by.”
Allen wore an army coat with a scarf and knit cap, and a leather book bag over his shoulder.
Saul and Robert were sharing a joint. Robert held it. He handed it to Allen. It was the normal thing to do.
“Allen, this is my friend Robert,” Saul exhaled. “He’s visiting from Wisconsin.” Allen took a hit and handed it to Saul. “Robert is thinking of moving to New York,” Saul smiled. “Robert is a poet.” Saul laughed at that. Robert laughed, too. It was funny. They were high.
Allen said, “I believe we have enough of those in New York.” He meant it literally, but it was really funny.
It was a short walk to Allen’s building, a brownstone with concrete steps leading to a concrete landing. Allen unlocked the door. It was a third floor walkup. Another key opened the apartment door. Then they were inside.
This was not Robert’s first experience with Ginsberg. Less that a week earlier, Ginsberg had read in Milwaukee. Robert was in the audience with his girlfriend Carla. They lived together. They had a cat named Allen Ginsberg.
Allen went directly to the kitchen. This is where they would sit. The kitchen table was Formica-topped with metal legs. The chairs had plastic padded seats and backs. The floor was linoleum, badly worn where people walked.
Allen opened the yellow refrigerator. The door had rounded corners. The shelves were nearly empty: a few odd vegetables, a container of yoghurt. The freezer compartment looked barely big enough for maybe an ice-cube tray and a can of frozen juice.
“Peter promised he’d clean this,” Allen said, and closed the refrigerator.
Saul rolled another joint. Allen filled a tea kettle. He lit the burner with a wooden match. He sat. Saul passed the joint to Robert. Robert took a hit and passed it to Allen, who took a hit and passed it to Saul. It all made perfect sense.
Robert looked at Allen. “I saw you in Milwaukee.”
“That’s right,” Allen said. “You’re from Wisconsin.”
The kettle whistled. There were only two clean cups so Allen used a glass. He placed a spoon inside it before pouring in the boiling hot water.
“The spoon absorbs heat,” Saul said. “So the glass won’t crack.”
While they drank their tea, Allen told of a recent plane trip, and how it was his first time flying on acid. He continued to describe the experience. It struck Robert how boring this would be if it were anyone else telling the story.
Allen mentioned a book on poetic forms he’d recently come upon. He said one of these forms closely described the rhythmic patterns in Howl. He mentioned a conversation with Kerouac and how he wished he’d had that book back then.
Allen left the room and returned with a harmonium. Robert recognized it as the one Allen had played in Milwaukee to accompany himself singing his own compositions of songs by William Blake.
“I saved this one for last,” Allen said. “I found the right chords earlier today.”
Allen began to play. The sound filled the room. He sang.
Tiger! Tiger! burning bright
In the forest of the night
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?
And on for four more verses. It was a world premier.
When the song was over they sat in silence. Then, without a word, Saul and Allen left the table and went into Allen’s bedroom. Saul closed the door.
Robert wandered the apartment. He found a room with bookshelves. On one wall was a large framed photograph. It was a group portrait from Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Tour. He recognized Joan Baez, Roger McGuinn, Saul Eliott, Mick Ronson, and a few others. Everyone had signed it.
Robert returned to the books. He was counting how many he’d read when he heard Saul say his name.
It was time to leave.
Just inside the apartment door was a stack of official looking boxes. Allen reached into one and pulled out a handful of papers.
“This is all my fault,” Allen said. “I requested my files under The Freedom of Information Act and now I have nowhere to put them. If you like, you can take some. You’d be doing me a favor.”
Robert looked at Saul.
Saul said, “Maybe another time, Allen.”
Saul and Robert went to a bar. There was a basketball game on the TV. It was the NCAA finals. Marquette and North Carolina. Only a few minutes remained. Marquette won 67-59.
It was a good night.