Canto One

Huncke: Canto One

by Rick Mullin

The poet Morton from the Open Mic
invited me on Facebook to a bar.
A night of poetry. It meant a hike
down Bowery, but it wasn’t all that far—
he’d organized the reading, and I like
the guy, despite the skulls on his guitar
and his “Memorial for Herbert Huncke,”
the prototype for William Burroughs’ Junkie.


He’d signed on Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth
and Patti Smith… some doyennes of the scene
who carried less marquee. To tell the truth,
he’d resurrected quite the old routine
of Squeeky Frommes with little John Wilkes Booth.
I’d never been particularly keen
on hipster scribblers, but, you see, I’d sent
out invitations to my own event….


And so I went. To Wikipedia
to bone up on the luminary thief
and prostitute… whose online media
runs viral with a hypertext relief
that lights full paragraphs. Review procedure:
Click the automatic links for brief
biographies that conjure a penumbra
of young ambitious writers at Columbia.                            


But here’s the nut. He grew up middle class,
he ran away, and lived through the depression
hobo style. In time, he worked his ass
on 42nd street, and took confession
from the Ginsberg lot, who paid in grass.
Suburban junkies followed in succession.
He held court at the Chelsea in his bed—
the tab was covered by the Grateful Dead,


and that was that. And this is Houston Street
and Bowery—“Bumland!” (Lots of kids from Jersey
smoking cigarettes outside effete
cafés and bars). I feel I’m at the mercy
of nostalgia, marching to the beat
of hand-me-down catastrophes and hearsay
revolutions in the spoken word
toward some theater of the absurd,


where, down the stairs in the performance space,
I see a flock I flew with years ago.
I smile at every unfamiliar face
I pass. I sip a beer. A vertigo
ensues in which projected figures race
through shadows, cycling to a garish glow.
I’m swallowed by the room in Morton’s eye.
If Byron needs a hero, so do I!


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