The Beats Go On

How a kid from Boulder became an eyewitness to the passing of an era.

Rosenthal and Morgan rushed their friend to Beth Israel Hospital. This time the tests included a liver biopsy. While he waited in the hospital for the results, Ginsberg kept writing, handing his scrawled drafts to Hale to be typed. One untitled verse addressed his disease and a bleak future:

This kind of Hepatitis can cause ya
Nosebleed skin itch bowel nausea
Swell up hanging hemorrhoid heads
Easter lillies by your hospital beds

Back at the office, Hale and Rosenthal were eating lunch when the telephone rang. Ginsberg. His voice was so soft that Hale had difficulty understanding when the poet asked if he'd typed all of his latest work.

Allen Ginsberg and his protegé, Peter Hale, at an early Naropa summer session.Although Peter Hale wanted to talk with William Burroughs (above), he wound up becoming Ginsberg's assistant.Ginsberg with his Peters: Hale and Orlovsky.Chris Ide and Peter Hale in Boulder in the late '80s.Ginsberg and his "best young poet" Chris Ide at Naropa.Chris Ide in the early '90s, when the drugs were catching up to him.Peter Hale as he looks today, and as photographed by Steven Miles in 1985.
Steven Miles
Allen Ginsberg and his protegé, Peter Hale, at an early Naropa summer session.Although Peter Hale wanted to talk with William Burroughs (above), he wound up becoming Ginsberg's assistant.Ginsberg with his Peters: Hale and Orlovsky.Chris Ide and Peter Hale in Boulder in the late '80s.Ginsberg and his "best young poet" Chris Ide at Naropa.Chris Ide in the early '90s, when the drugs were catching up to him.Peter Hale as he looks today, and as photographed by Steven Miles in 1985.
Allen Ginsberg and his protegé, Peter Hale, at an early Naropa summer session.
Steven Miles
Allen Ginsberg and his protegé, Peter Hale, at an early Naropa summer session.

"Most of it," Hale replied. "I needed to get some other business out of the way."

"Drop everything else," Ginsberg interrupted, "and type them."

Hale knew that something was very wrong. When Ginsberg asked to speak to Rosenthal, he handed over the phone and went to Ginsberg's bedroom, where he could see Beth Israel from the window. His head was spinning.

A minute later, Rosenthal came in and led Hale back to the office. There were tears in the older man's eyes when he gently said, "Allen's dying...liver cancer. He has about ten months to live."

Ginsberg wanted to keep the news quiet until he'd had a chance to tell his friends and family. In the meantime, Rosenthal told Hale, there was work to do. He had to type the poems as quickly as he could so that they could be revised and retyped -- and still, they should go on about their normal routines.

Over the next few days, Ginsberg began calling people he wanted to tell about his prognosis before they read it in the newspaper or heard it on the television or radio. Hale stayed busy typing the drafts of poems and taking them to Ginsberg in the hospital, often walking in on weepy conversations that always seemed to end, "I'm going to miss you, dear."

Despite the tears when he was on the telephone, Ginsberg more often than not described himself as "exhilarated" at the prospect of finally finding out what lay beyond the end of this road. He'd never been a big believer in the Buddhist theory of reincarnation, but he wasn't discounting it either.

He liked to laugh about how his oncologist came to the room. The old poet looked at his face and, before the physician could speak, said, "Ummm... prognosis negative...terminal cancer." The doctor nodded. "Whew! Got that out of the way," Ginsberg said.

One afternoon, Hale arrived at the hospital to find Ginsberg asleep. He sat down on the bed and searched his face. The poet opened his eyes, smiled and patted him on the hand. "I'm going to miss you, dear," he said.

Ginsberg was allowed to go home on Wednesday, April 2. Hale and Rosenthal were surprised by how much energy he showed. He moved about his apartment as if saying hello to an old friend after a long absence. Later, he changed into his pajamas and came into the office, sitting in Hale's chair as he liked to, and answered the telephone.

The poet wasn't about to let the last ten months of his life slip away. He'd been planning an MTV event with Bob Dylan, who was going to fly to New York and record with him. He asked Hale to come to the loft, listen to "C.C. Rider" and write down the lyrics as a possibility. Ginsberg seemed in a good mood as they sat together on the couch, listening: I'm goin' away now baby...and I won't be back till fall...Just might find me a good girl...might not be comin' back at all...

Ginsberg's current Buddhist teacher, Gelek Rinpoche from Jewel Heart Buddhist Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan, had given the poet hand-written notes for Tibetan dying practices -- visualization of certain deities and mantras to be chanted at specific times. The techniques were for advanced students only, and Ginsberg had to get his teacher's permission to give them to Hale so that they could be typed.

That evening Hale sat by his mentor's bed and went over the notes. Ginsberg was delighted to have something to work on, even if it was preparations for his own death. It took an hour to go through the eleven pages, and then Ginsberg fell asleep.

The doctor had said ten months. But by the next day it was clear to everyone that time was running out much faster than that. Ginsberg hardly got out of bed, and he decided that it was time to call the media and let them know that he had terminal liver cancer. Ginsberg was anxious that there wasn't going to be time for the personal goodbyes he envisioned. He'd arranged it so that everyone would come visit, starting with his oldest friends first. Lucien Carr was due to arrive the next day, and Burroughs would come next.

Hale hardly spoke to Ginsberg that day, except words of comfort when the old man vomited. He helped Orlovsky change the poet's shirt and clean him up. But at least Ginsberg didn't seem to be suffering; the oncologist had said that it was not a painful cancer, just a swift and deadly one. Before Hale left that evening, he looked in on his friend one last time. His face had a soft, gray look, his big brown eyes luminous.

« Previous Page
 |
 
1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
5
 
6
 
7
 
8
 
9
 
10
 
11
 
12
 
13
 
14
 
15
 
16
 
17
 
18
 
19
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
0 comments
 
Loading...