Revolutionary Letter #1

- 1934-2020

I have just realized that the stakes are myself
I have no other
ransom money, nothing to break or barter but my life
my spirit measured out, in bits, spread over
the roulette table, I recoup what I can
nothing else to shove under the nose of the maitre de jeu
nothing to thrust out the window, no white flag
this flesh all I have to offer, to make the play with
this immediate head, what it comes up with, my move
as we slither over this go board, stepping always
(we hope) between the lines

City Lights 1961

Going there for the first time
it was so much smaller then
that crowded downstairs full of poetry
racks of tattered little mags against the wall
those rickety white tables where folks sat reading/writing
Vesuvio’s was like an adjunct office

Arriving again a year later, two kids in tow
Lawrence gave me a huge stack of his publications
“I’ve got books” he said “like other people have mice”

And North Beach never stopped being mysterious
when I moved out here in 1968
that publishing office on Filbert & Grant was a mecca
a place to meet up with my kids if we got separated
during one of those innumerable demonstrations
(tho Lawrence worried, told me I shd keep them
out of harm’s way, at home) I thought they shd learn
whatever it was we were learning—
Office right around the corner from the bead store
where I found myself daily, picking up supplies

How many late nights did we haunt the Store
buying scads of new poems from all corners of the earth
then head to the all-night Tower Records full of drag queens
& revolutionaries, to get a few songs

And dig it, City Lights still here, like some old lighthouse
though all the rest is gone,
the poetry’s moved upstairs, the publishing office
right there now too       & crowds of people
one third my age or less still haunt the stacks
seeking out voices from all quarters
of the globe

Revolutionary Letter #3

store water; make a point of filling your bathtub
at the first news of trouble: they turned off the water
in the 4th ward for a whole day during the Newark riots;
or better yet make a habit
of keeping the tub clean and full when not in use
change this once a day, it should be good enough
for washing, flushing toilets when necessary
and cooking, in a pinch, but it’s a good idea
to keep some bottled water handy too
get a couple of five gallon jugs and keep them full
for cooking


store food—dry stuff like rice and beans stores best
goes farthest. SALT VERY IMPORTANT: it’s health and energy
healing too, keep a couple pounds
sea salt around, and, because we’re spoiled, some tins
tuna, etc. to keep up morale—keep up the sense
of ‘balanced diet’ ‘protein intake’ remember
the stores may be closed for quite some time, the trucks
may not enter your section of the city for weeks, you can cool it indefinitely


with 20 lb brown rice
20 lb whole wheat flour
10 lb cornmeal
10 lb good beans—kidney or soy
5 lb sea salt
2 qts good oil
dried fruit and nuts
add nutrients and a sense of luxury
to this diet, a squash or coconut
in a cool place in your pad will keep six months.


remember we are all used to eating less
than the ‘average American’ and take it easy
before we
ever notice we’re hungry the rest of the folk will be starving
used as they are to meat and fresh milk daily
and help will arrive, until the day no help arrives
and then you’re on your own.


hoard matches, we aren’t good
at rubbing sticks together any more
a tinder box is useful, if you can work it
don’t count on gas stove, gas heater
electric light
keep hibachi and charcoal, CHARCOAL STARTER a help
kerosene lamp and candles, learn to keep warm
with breathing
remember the blessed American habit of bundling

Revolutionary Letter #2

The value of an individual life a credo they taught us
to instill fear, and inaction, 'you only live once'
a fog on our eyes, we are
endless as the sea, not separate, we die
a million times a day, we are born
a million times, each breath life and death:
get up. put on your shoes, get 
started, someone will finish


an organism, one flesh, breathing joy as the stars
breathe destiny down on us, get
going, join hands, see to business, thousands of sons
will see to it when you fall, you will grow
a thousand times in the bellies of your sisters

Related Poems

Time of Tyranny, 50

Birds hatch, eggs are laid, nests are built, trees branch, seeds
sprout: it’s always time. Time to recognize the sipping
self as girded shelf supporting stuff conducive to supporting self
recognizing time making its attempt to install
itself with all its belongings. They include forebodings
and long descriptions of the rifle butts that press
against the past shouldered by the men of firing squads
and the verminous skin of dogs with mange even at a very young
age outside cafes or on short chains as if their existence
were a prerequisite to mastering the arts of being
delicately human and a gambler with a passion for mortality
and substituting one value (vivacity) for another (history)
upon the heads of humans grotesque as the programs
they invent to send their opinions forward.


Fruit from one vine tangles with another
Making a mess of the intended harvest, yet
the lack of calculation is welcome

that accident that shifts bodies from shadows
into a locus of light midday bright & caustic
wounds un-healed newsreel cameras trap

this old & angry man in a bespoke suit lifting
white pages & refusing to read them, mumbles
unwelcome threats & thanks the nation

the nation kicks him out—finally defiant
after years of misrule, disruption, murder
and the choked voice youth terrorized

he wants more blood on his hands so that
when he enters his version of paradise
all will be red.

[everyone asks for the you they remember]

                  everyone asks for the you they remember
                  I wish for no new way to feel alone again
                                                                  America is
                                                           the wrong angel
                                                     a classic wristwatch
                                             on the arm of a man who
                                               thinks he owns himself
                                                 back to the borrowed 
                                                         amount of living
                                    here is a rough sketch of what
                          we look like inside when mortality
         distracts us from how we destroy the world
                                          I draw Odin’s ravens 
                                             under the shelf of
                                                teapots in the 
                  may the tea bring us strength
                  may wings lift us to revolution