Paul Blackburn died 45 years ago today…
…just 44 years old. He had been a major presence in my first years in New York City, as mentor & gentle commentator on my early poems. Here, for the occasion, a poem I wrote a few years later on another 13 September, thinking of Paul, New York and trying to be unusually (for me) O’Hara-ish (published in An American Suite):
THE DAY PAUL BLACKBURN DIED
for Frank O’Hara & Paul Blackburn
It is 6.28 p.m. in Tooting, London, just another
Saturday night coming on while Billie Holiday
sings ‘Them There Eyes’. Just kissed
Candy good-bye, Victoria is walking her
to the bus-stop. At 7.30 we have to leave here
to go to Richard’s party, which is on Hampstead Heath
or 45 minutes (at least) by subway.
James Cagney as rearadmiral something
or other winning the battle of Guadalcanal in, was it 43
or 4 on the BBC2 ‘Saturday Afternoon Movie’,
my mind was on this poem, how I might get down to writing
it, once Candy left, and if only I could remember
what I did on September 13, 1971.
ago, on St. Valentine’s day 1974, I checked
my diaries for 71, but there was no entry
for that day.
I was in London and lived in a
basement on Finborough Road, near Earl’s Court,
with Billy and Victoria who hated and still hates
that place, because it was dark and damp
and Bill and I drunk too much that year,
we were probably drunk that very night, or day,
or else I was working on the s/f script for
the german radio, or maybe that was the day
the tiny mouse came out from under the living-room
closet, to sit in the middle of the carpet in
the middle of the room and not caring about Bill’s
and my presence, sat there for a good twenty minutes
before it suddenly keeled over and died.
In my diary
there is a gap from wednesday 8, to monday, sept. 20;
the last entry on the 8th reads:
‘see you at the next disaster’.
It is just after 7 p.m. now, and I’m still in Tooting.
Spent the last half-hour racking my brains re
that day, but drew a blank.
There is no way I can
remember what I did on sept. 13 1971, any more than
what I did on july 26, 1966,
though I think I was home
then, in Luxembourg, studying for my
medical exams. It is strange that those 2 dates
are so much hazier than, say, for example,
Nov. 1st 1972.
I know what I did that day: I spent the whole
day writing a poem
about the wholeness
of that day. I called it ‘Canto Diurno’
til I heard the news about what had happened
that day, over the radio, early the
Feeling nervous now,
wondering if I can fit a bath
between the end of this poem
and the time we have to leave
for the party, where I don’t really want to go,
knowing that I will have a lousy time
watching Victoria having a great time
flirting with Richard, while I’ll
get drunk to get through the required
number of hours,
and drunk, I’ll try to talk
to the young girls from LSE, this
poem will be on my mind, so I’ll babble
about Frank and about Paul,
their heads and will walk away,
so I’ll go over to the stereo thinking
Death, like, depending on what Richard
is serving, if it’s wine I’ll most likely
think of my own death, or about seeing
but if it is scotch
or vodka, I’ll think Murder
the most likely victim being
Richard, of course.
Though he won’t
notice me killing him, he’ll be too
busy being the perfect host, and he’ll
apologize when I’ll ask him
why the hell he doesn’t have
any Billie Holiday records.