eveningPeter Hale calls and asks me to come quickly, Allen is in
a coma, dying. Pull on my sneakers and taxi down, trying to keep calm
breathing, trying to arrive in state of peace. 15 minutes after Petes
call he opens the door to the loft and I go in to join those already gathered.
I went and embraced big PeterOrlovskyand Eugene, Allens
brother. About 20 friends talking in low voices, looking lost, comforting
After being diagnosed with inoperable liver cancer the previous Friday
at Beth Israel Hospital, Allen had been told he had maybe 2-5 months to
live. When I heard the news, for some reason I felt strongly that it would
not be that longI felt that he would go very soon. He had come back
home Wednesday in good spirits, organizing things as ever, making plans
for the coming days. But someone (I forget who; perhaps it was Bob) had
said Allen personally felt that he had very little time left. A month
or two, he thought. So Wednesday he was busy, writing and making phone
calls to his friends all over the world, saying goodbye. Amiri Baraka
said Allen called him and said Im dying, do you need any money?
But Thursday he was much weaker, he could hobble from bed to chair only
with difficulty. There was a phonecall from Italy, in the middle of it
Allen begins to vomit, throws up right there on the phone! Funny,
he says, never done that before. Said he was very tired and
wanted to go to sleep. He fell asleep and later that night had a seizure
and slipped into a coma. He was alone
In the morning Bob Rosenthal discovered him unconscious and called the
Hospice doctor who came and told him that Allen had most likely had a
stroke and had hours to live. The task of notifiying family and friends
Everyone had feared that as word spread, there would be a huge throng
appearing at the loft, but that wasnt the case. People came and
went quietly during the afternoon. Bob, Pete Hale, Bill Morgan and Kaye
Wright, the office staff, were busy constantly at the phones making and
recieving calls. Shelley Rosenthal and Rani Singh helping with everything
that needed doing. Eugene and several neices and nephews of Allens
consoling each other. Larry Rivers down from his apartment upstairs, wandering
around forlornly in his pink white and blue striped pajamas. George and
Anna Condo and their little girl. Francesco and Alba Clemente, beloved
friends of Allens. Patti Smith sitting in tears with Oliver Ray
and her young daughter. Bob and Shellys sons Aliah and Isaac. Mark
Israel and David Greenberg, two of Allens young boyfriends. Philip
Glass and June Leaf. Robert Frank. Simon Pettet. Andrew Wylie. Roy Lichtenstein.
Steven Bornstein, who had flown up from Florida. A few others, I dont
remember who all was there.
I went to the back of the loft and Raymond Foye stood looking pale and
so sad. I told him he must be very blessed, he had spent so much time
giving support and love to the dyingHenry Geldzahler, Huncke, Harry
Smith. Yes, but this is the big one, the hardest, he said.
Allen lay in a narrow hospital bed beside the windows overlooking 14th
street. There were two almost invisible tubes coming out of his nose,
attached to a portable small oxygen tank on the floor. His head was raised
up on a couple of big striped pillows and he looked tiny and frail, thin
arms with bruised veins from hospital tests sticking out from his Jewel
Heart T-shirt. Head to the side, slight shadows under the eyes. I had
walked through the loft, people whispering greetings, hugging, telling
me all that had happened. But still not really prepared for the sight
of him. The windows were open, curtains waving softly. His breathing was
deep, slow, very labored, a snoring sound. Hey, Allen, wake up!
Joel Gaidemak, his cousin and doctor, was there constantly, and a young
lady nurse sat in the corner reading, occasionally getting up to check
on heart and pulse, or administer morphine for congestion. Gelek Rinpoche
said he thought Allen might last the night. Joel didnt think so.
A few chairs were set up nearby, and there was the big white leather Salvation
Army sofa of which he was so proud. People sat, or at intervals went to
sit beside the bed and hold his hand or whisper to him and kiss him, his
hand or cheek or head. An altar had been set up along one side of the
loft and Gelek Rinpoche and the other monks sat chanting and praying,
the sound so soothing constantly in the background, bells tinkling. A
faint scent of flowers and incense hung in the air.
I had a little throw-away Woolworths camera, and Gregory Corso asked me
to take a picture of him with Allen. He knelt beside the cot and placed
his arm over Allen like that picture, or statue, of Adonais, right?
There was a medical chart, a picture of the human skeleton, hanging over
the bed. Bob said Allen had put it there, half as a joke, half as a reminder.
And Allens beautiful picture of Whitman (that had hung in the kitchen
on 12th Street) gazing down from the wall at the other dear bearded poet
in the bed below. As it got late, many went home to try and catch a little
sleep. It was around 11. Bob and Pete were just playing it by ear, deciding
that anyone who wanted to stay would find a place , on the floor if necessary.
Peter Orlovsky was taking photos and I felt a little uncomfortable, the
idea of taking pictures at this time, but I figured, hey, if it was you,
Allend be the first one through the door camera in hand! Eventually,
Eugene leaned over, held Allens hand, whispered Goodbye little
Allen. Goodbye little Allen. Ill be back later. See you soon.
He kissed him and left. And GregoryGregorio!too, telling us
to call him at once if there was any change.
Joel had said that there was no way to know how long it would be, minutes
or hours, surely not days. I had felt from the minute I saw Allen there
that it would be very soon. I sat at the foot of the bed where I had spent
the last few hours, holding his feet, rubbing them gently from time to
time. An occasional cigarette breakthe little guest bedroom by the
office area was set up as the smokers lounge. Bob and Pete and Bill
were as strong and remarkable as ever, supporting everyone, keeping a
sense of humor, and constantly dealing with the dozens of phonecalls,
faxes, and the visitors as they came and went. Theyd had a few days
for the news to sink in, but they were dealing withliterallyhundreds
of people over the phone or in person who had just found out and were
in the first stages of stunned, disbelieving grief.
I had remained at the bedside and it was now after midnight. I could not
believe he still hung on, the breathing so difficult, the lungs slowly
filling with fluid. Labored breathing (gulps for airlike those gulps
hed made when he was singingalmost like he was reciting poetry
in his sleep). Those who had been there all day were exhausted. It was
down to a few now. Bob and Pete and Bill Morgan. Peter Orlovsky so bravely
dealing with his pain, strong Beverly holding his hand. David and Mark.
Patti and Oliver, there together all day trying to be brave and sometimes
giving way to red eyed tears. Simon Pettet sitting beside me for hours.
Allens feet felt cooler than they had been earlier. I sat remembering
the 33 years Id known him, lived with him, my second father.
And still he breathed, but softer now.
Around 2 oclock, everyone decided to try and get some rest. Bob
and Joel lay down in Allens big bed near the cot where he lay, everyone
found a sofa or somewhere to stretch out.
Simon and I sat, just watching his face. Everyone was amazed at how beautiful
he lookedall lines of stress and age smoothedhe looked patriarchal
and strong. I had never seen him so handsome. The funny looking little
boy had grown into this most wonderful looking man. (He would have encouraged
photos if he had known how wonderful he looked!) But so tiny! He seemed
as fragile as a baby in his little T-shirt.
The loft was very quiet. Most were resting, half-asleep. Suddenly Allen
began to shake, a small convulsion wracked his body. I called out, and
Joel and Bob sat up and hurried over. I called louder, and everyone else
came running. It was about 2:15. Joel examined him, pulse, etc., and said
that his vital signs were considerably slower, he had had another seizure.
The breathing went on,weaker. His feet were cooler. Everyone sat or stood
close to the little bed. The loft was dim and shadowy; only a single low
light shining down on him. It lent a surreal, almost theatrical look to
the corner of the loft. Peter Orlovsky bent over and kissed his head,
saying, Goodbye Darling.
And then suddenly a remarkable thing happened. A tremor went through him,
and slowly, impossibly, he began to raise his head. He weakly rose until
he was sitting almost upright, and his left arm lifted and extended. Then
his eyes opened very slowly and very wide. The pupils were wildly dilated.
I thought I saw a look of confusion or bewilderment. His head began to
turn very slowly and his eyes seemed to glance around him, gazing on each
of us in turn. His eyes were so deep, so dark, but Bob said that they
were empty of sight. His mouth opened, and we all heard as he seemed to
struggle to say something, but only a soft low sound, a weak Aaah,
came from him. Then his eyes began to close and he sank back onto the
pillow. The eyes shut fully. He continued, then, to struggle through a
few more gasping breaths, and his mouth fell open in an O. Joel said that
these were the final moments, the O of the mouth the sign of approaching
death. I still continued to stroke his feet and thin little legs, but
the Tibetan Buddhist tradition is to not touch the body after death, so
I kissed him one final time and then let go.
At 2:39, Joel checked for vital signs and announced that the heart, so
much stronger than anyone knew, had stopped beating. A painless and gentle
death. The thin blue sheet was pulled up to his chin, and Peter Hale brought
over a tiny cup and spoon, and placed a few drops of a dark liquid between
Allens lips. It was part of the Buddhist ritual the last
food. Bob put his hand over Allens eyes and said the Shma.
We all sat quietly in the dim light, each with our own thoughts, saying
© 1997. Rosebud Feliu-Pettet.