Paul Blackburn died 45 years ago today…

blackburn-rock…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

1.

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.

  Watching

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.

2 days

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’.

  2.

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

next morning.

  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,

they’ll shake

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

myself dying,

  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.

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