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On Herbert Huncke and Peter Orlovsky

Peter

by Herbert Huncke

I just finished eating Peter and washed him down with beer—lager beer.  He was tender and juicy—succulent—sugar cured and lean.

I swallowed his heart whole.  Sucked his bones clean—leaving them in a pile—neatly stacked—marrowless.

Of his hair I’ll weave a silken jerkin—a scarf—to wrap around my throat and a sash.

Of his bones I’ll build a bed—spend hours lying upon it—dreaming—his skull a pillow for my head—the birds will come there and find me dead.

They will peck me tearing tiny morsels of flesh.  Some will fly away—dropping me into the sea—for fish.  The sun will dry me out and the wind scatter flakes of dust over the earth.

Slowly our bones will pulverize as we gradually become powdery—the rain blending us together—washed across the earth in tiny rivulets—seeping down to the roots of the trees—grass—flowers.

They will find our skulls—the last to go—clasped jaw to jaw—in caricature of a kiss.

Afterword
by Jerome Poynton

Herbert Huncke’s poem “Peter” was written for Peter Orlovsky who died on May 31st 2010. After Peter’s death, Professor Hilary Holladay wrote to me and described Herbert’s love for Peter as “a passionate kind of love that is so hard on everybody.”

Till the end, Herbert never forgave Peter for their break. He didn’t want Peter to visit in the hospital. Didn’t want Allen Ginsberg to visit for fear he would bring Peter.

Herbert and Peter were that close.

Theirs is a long and difficult story I piece together with fragments. Peter was basically heterosexual. All those years with Allen, Peter was often living with a woman. He was a gorgeous man. Photographer Robert Frank told me Peter was the most beautiful man he ever saw. He was drop dead gorgeous into his early 50s. He also had a statesman quality to him.

His posture was good. He moved gracefully. He wasn’t arrogant with power or his beauty.

Peter Orlovsky was one of my favorite “beats,” which is why Herbert’s anger was always a puzzle to me, as I was very close to Herbert. Peter was very generous with people. He had the aura of being a Prince—who  understood intuitively what was happening, even behind the scenes—and did his best to make things more palatable for the world.

He was not a grandstander and he didn’t claim, at every turn, that he was “a Poet” to increase leverage or societal acceptance. Peter was half crazy, half intuitive. Brilliant. Writer David Sands said it best: “When Peter shook your hand, it wasn’t an empty handshake.”

Robert Frank captured Julius and Peter Orlovsky in the documentary film Me and My Brother and then he captured Peter somewhat brilliantly in One Hour, and while working on that production I was never sure if Peter was acting for the camera, for Robert or just being Peter.

After the filming of One Hour—which was recorded on a one-hour Hi-8 video tape with no interruption (once the camera was on, there was no turning it off)—there was a small gathering of those involved in a semi-vacant loft near Bleecker Street.

I saw Peter and began a conversation.

“I first met you in Boulder, at the Kerouac Conference in 1982. I’m a friend of Robert Lavigne’s,” I said.

“Bob Lavigne, God he had a big dick,” Peter replied. “Did he fuck you?”

“No,” I replied.

“Well, he fucked me,” Peter chortled loudly.

“I live in New York now and I’m a good friend of Huncke,” I replied.

“Huncke, ohh, he has a big dick. Not as big as Lavigne’s but a big dick.”

Robert Lavigne discovered Peter in San Francisco in the 1950s, painted him and they began living together. Robert has a history of having heterosexual boyfriends who were often kind of rough or kind of crazy.

Peter was in the latter category.

Peter grew up on Long Island, New York with his mother, three brothers and one sister—living for a time, I was told, in a former chicken coop. Julius and Lafcadio Orlovsky were way out there in the psychology ether—see Frank’s Me and My Brother, it is one of the great, great documentaries and a perfect portrait of Julius and Peter Orlovsky.

In 1954 Allen fell in love with the painting of Peter Orlovsky in the San Francisco studio of Robert Lavigne when Lavigne brought Allen home. Within a few weeks, Peter was living with Allen. Lavigne never forgave Allen, not only for stealing Peter away from him—but why didn’t Allen steal Lavigne away from Peter? A life long hurt ensued.

Herbert’s story with Peter came sometime in the 1960s. Herbert had rescued a young female poet, about 17 years of age, off the tough New York City streets. Her name, Janine Pommy Vega. Janine was as beautiful as any 17-year old girl who has a love for poetry can be. Stunning.

In any case, Herbert encouraged Janine to go back to New Jersey and graduate from high school. After she returned she became a fierce user of drugs. She was living with Herbert, the great poet John Wieners, and at some point artist and drummer Bill Heine, all of them professional users. Along the way Herbert and Janine were living in the same building as Allen and Peter. And then Peter hooked up with Janine and this didn’t sit well with Herbert. I don’t know exactly how it all went down. Maybe it harked back to the Lavigne hurt. I just don’t know.

I do believe that Herbert and Peter had a love affair. Which again reminds me of Hilary Holladay’s words about Herbert’s passionate kind of love being so hard on everybody.
When things went wrong, Herbert didn’t forgive Peter. And Herbert was not known to hold a grudge. Generally, if Herbert didn’t like someone, he didn’t like them from “Day One” and that was that. If Herbert fell out with someone, as he and I did once or twice, it could be patched up with time and by circumstance. With Peter, no. It wasn’t the case.

Some people think Herbert’s poem for Peter is macabre when maybe it isn’t. In reading it, one has to travel two parallel roads at the same time—

one of love and one of hate—or something like that—I’m not totally sure myself. On the one hand, I had always thought of the poem as macabre. But when Peter died, I saw it as beautiful and filled with love. It is the awkward kind of love we often fall into in life—not so much the dreamy kind of love we read about or look for in candy wrappers. It was another kind of love.

So nice, it happens only once or twice.

Herbert wrote “Peter” and meant every bit of it. He still loved him.

Jerome Poynton
Tarquinia, Italy

P.S.  Here it is to re-read.

Peter

by Herbert Huncke

I just finished eating Peter and washed him down with beer—lager beer.  He was tender and juicy—succulent—sugar cured and lean.

I swallowed his heart whole.  Sucked his bones clean—leaving them in a pile—neatly stacked—marrowless.

Of his hair I’ll weave a silken jerkin—a scarf—to wrap around my throat and a sash.

Of his bones I’ll build a bed—spend hours lying upon it—dreaming—his skull a pillow for my head—the birds will come there and find me dead.

They will peck me tearing tiny morsels of flesh.  Some will fly away—dropping me into the sea—for fish.  The sun will dry me out and the wind scatter flakes of dust over the earth.

Slowly our bones will pulverize as we gradually become powdery—the rain blending us together—washed across the earth in tiny rivulets—seeping down to the roots of the trees—grass—flowers.

They will find our skulls—the last to go—clasped jaw to jaw—in caricature of a kiss.

The above piece also appeared in Exquisite Corpse

Washington Post  obituary for Peter Orlovsky

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