Liz’s Weekly Poetry Series: Alden Van Buskirk
Alden Van Buskirk died in 1961 at the age of 23 from a rare blood disease. His medical case was the focus of an article in the New England Journal of Medicine (August 31, 1961), titled “Paroxysmal Nocturnal Hemoglobinuria: A Successful Imposter.”
Until a week ago I had never heard this poet’s name. Then I ran across an essay from the Poetry Foundation, titled “Death Will Be My Final Lover” and after reading it I immediately went to AbeBooks to see if I could find a copy of his posthumous book of poems, written during the last year of his life, title Lami.
Alden is seen as a sort of lost beat angel, dead before his time. Allen Ginsberg was even talked into writing an introductory note for Lami when it came out in 1965 (only 1,000 copies were published).
I’m always impressed at poetic talent when it appears at such a young age (thinking back to the material I was writing at the age of 23 makes me cringe).
When I got the book in the mail a few days ago, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Then I read the first poem, and I thought, not bad for a 23 year old writing a half century ago.
in another mental universe whose
associations orbit outward to infinite
theory while bodies
decay in Oakland furnished rooms
blow over in the cornfields of Nebraska—
In New York
the last clock runs down
I have finished screwing the last
woman about to hang out her wash,
kissing the last chinese baby on the nose.
My tenderness goes to the movies
in Los Angeles and is stuck to the back of a
velvet seat, the sweet gum
of my tenderness
hardening there with
the candy wrappers of nostalgia,
the popcorn of pity…
the last newsreel running backward
restores the last burning house
and the people skitter in again thru windows:
I see ten gangster films in a day, quietly
masturbating over 1920 dresses & eating
the pounds of State popcorn.
Afterwards dance my own shadow on the screen &
run out for a last look.
In every city the same, this is some science
fiction thing—am I
there among the senseless? corpses bloating
in eddies float back to sea now,
me carried along in the tide, no
I can still dream the sun, the
indifferent eye of the sun, earthquakes of crystal,
mountains the knees of
old gods bellowing thunder, this is
not my end, maybe peyote if I could
find it, peyote for the world
to kill the mind but the mind has
outlawed the spirit and covers all
America with cement, a huge highway
going nowhere but to the sea.
Sea moss creeps up the concrete,
the fish love me I am not lost.
The sea advances on the earth, and gently
methodically touches with wet fingers the
last warm ashes.
—Alden Van Buskirk