Blasts from the Past

Hold It All

It must have been 1983, springtime: I asked former classmate Ray Pruitt what he’d been reading. “Last night, Kierkegaard, Proust, and Phil Berrigan.”

Things Have Changed

It was back in 1982
We had a guest in our theology and lit class
Ten years older than me
He’d come of age in the Sixties

Allen Ginsberg had recently been in town
Our guest kvetched about Allen:
“At the reading he was wearing a suit!”
As if that constituted a felony

In that early period of Reagan bluster
Our guest needed the old Allen
The rad Allen the Howl Allen
The Hebrew Socialist Revolution Allen

Maybe our guest didn’t know that in the Seventies
Allen had become a Buddhist
Had become convinced of impermanence
Including the impermanence of Allen Ginsberg

On Writing Together

As I face down the pullulating piles and stacks of papers
I came across the following
Which fell out of a file I hadn’t looked through
In many years

Seems even back in the dark years
Of the second Reagan Administration
I was doing my part to promote
Writing practice and camaraderie

Even though we haven’t rendezvoused
At some clever uptown cafe
(or perhaps sleazy downtown bar)
For several months
To sit and chat and think and write
And emote and confer

I want to tell you how much
These little meetings meant to me
No one has believed in my talents
Considered my worth
Encouraged my work
And found pleasure in my teeth
As much as you
And I hardly know you
And still hardly know you!

How did it happen that this man who introduced me
To the world of theology, Buddhism
And unencumbered writing
Came to mean so much to me?

I’m not sure

Perhaps, as one of my favorite poets once wrote,
Maybe you “sneaked up behind my ear
Wearing sneakers”
You not only came up behind my ear
But you also entered softly
Through the ear canal
And filled my mind with thoughts
Of profound caring

People don’t need to see each other
Everyday for a bond to form–
You are a case in point for me

I can’t tell you
How I feel as you leave town
(As a person who has few ties in this city)
I feel like I’m losing a soul mate
And will sorely miss your proximity

When I miss you most
I’ll read your thoughtful and zany pages…
And remember

What Some People Say

“Dear Padre Rob

Figured you’d enjoy this
You’re motley like me

Getting my near worthless 1976 BMW 2002 fixed at the AutoHaus
I was sitting in the waiting room going over my Yiddish vocab
When the owner Geoff Schuler appeared

He had been a couple years ahead of me in high school
He’s doing well for himself in this shop
He drove a spif new 7-series himself

Geoff said in semi-exasperation as he headed toward the garage
“Geez those Jews will squeeze every dime
Out of you that they can”

When I didn’t offer an affirming comment in return
He popped his head back in the waiting room
With a quizzical look on his face

“Geoff, my father’s Jewish”
And he blushed: “I thought you were German”
As he started to back pedal I said:

“Even though my Beemer is a worn-out piece of shit
You probably don’t want to alienate a promising market niche
You ever hear that story about the Jewish doctor

His immigrant father swore off ever buying anything German
So the doc told his father—lied to him—that his new BMW stood for
British Motor Works

The Ultimate Driving Machine
Appeals to lots of different people
Including, believe it or not, Jews


–Perry Schimmel appears in my novel, Dear Layla Welcome to Palestine

Finding Treasures

In my basement
I come across a thick file
“Maggie Rose Murphy” is on the folder

It bulges
Poems & postcards & letters galore
From throughout the 1980s

Your scientific acumen
Has long been respected
(And to eavesdrop on you
Talking shop with a colleague

I’d walk away as if
I’d been hearing the Khmer tongue)
And it’s none of my business

But I fantasize
Typing up
Arranging and sequencing

Pestering publishers
Till seeing this heft
Of youthful fire

Enformed in pages
“Now available
In hardback”

¡Ray Pruitt, Presente!

I just found out that a classmate died last year in Japan. Ray Pruitt studied two years at Bellarmine (1978-80), then eventually finished his Bachelor’s at Harvard before doing law at Yale. Ray, Anne Walter and I had signed up for a US history class sophomore year. For the first quiz, Ray ignored what the teacher gave us and instead wrote a short essay on the vices of indoctrination. The professor later called him into her office, and he proposed that he was ready for a serious, critical look at U.S. history and he knew two other students (Anne and me) who were also up for reading some of the classics of our nation. She agreed, and we three stopped going to class and instead met with her every couple of weeks for discussion on a particular book. Near the end of the spring term, one of Ray’s papers was on the Beats, which introduced me to the writings of Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Burroughs.

Thinking of Ray’s exuberance, I recall Harold Bloom’s commentary on The Book of J about Yahweh’s Blessing: “J’s vision of the charismatic is that its quality lets us envision a time without boundaries, a sense of something evermore about to be, a dream that is no dream but rather a dynamic breaking through into a perpetually fresh vitalism…”

from an undergraduate essay on the Beats by Ray Pruitt, with my markings

This page is part of my book, Dear Love of Comrades, which you can read here.

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