Originally published in The Evergreen Review Issue 102 in 1999.
"Ray Bremser was one of the original, if not one of the most authentic Beats..."
and the clouds are heavy metal
rolling oe'r the vacant brick of Utica
where Ray lies in his death throes
at the Faxton Cancer Hospital.
It's not a happy sight,
a finality about the rooms and service
his roommate's exposed privates
both he and Ray seem far away.
In and out of sensed reality
I fear to say, eyes like animals in cages
Ray's eyes sometimes intense
screaming "I want to die"
not in a philosophical mode
but the growl used for prison guards
rattling his bones against the
iron bars of New Jersey.
Squirts of daylight on the sidewalk
like used rubber gloves thrown
among the slimy Autumn leaves
Study the sight, oh latter night Beats.
Another is passing into the night
like T.V. tonight Jimmy Smits
on NYPD the line of fictive reality
unto death, what to do with life's purpose?
If it's to understand life (loved the old comedies)
from those eyes just make ourselves over
Ray watch the old realities in black and white
He pulls on the bed rails : "I want to die."
His eyebrows move and he briefly conducts
a conversation he can't partake in
or a Katchaturian concert or a poem.
He leans back, eyes glazed, goes elsewhere further than shooting up decades ago
the history gone like our rides for Terpin hydrate
finding village drugstores while the world went on.
What history can a human have. The history gone
the religions, the politics, the last fiction...not that
Faith, miracles, and belief isn't real
there's just never enough to go around.
Don't tell me his spirit has to hitch a ride
'round about midnight'
to make a visitation when the sky
rolled back its spheres to let the gold sun
wail like a sax over the stage of East Hill
for an original hipbeatster camping at
the Committee on Poetry farm
where he said he used to talk more shit
than the radio which he didn't own.
Cherry Valley, NY
Ray Bremser was one of the original, if not one of the most authentic Beats, a hipster from the same vein as Herbert Huncke (probably closest to him philosophically than others), from the jazz subterranean world down the block to where Kerouac was blowin'. He lived a spartan lifestyle (not without excesses) associated with the early Beat movement. A bed on the floor in a room a couple times bigger than a cell, a few tattered books and a sink to piss in was home to him. He was not a clean liver by any means. His pad was probably more like Howard Hughes's, except in Ray's case filled with labyrinthian mounds of beer bottles, cans and ash trays. His economics were similar to Huncke's, too. Always on the hustle, scuffling enough for beer, cigarettes, drugs, and a room. He had one windfall from a class-action suit against the state, which brought several thousand to his kitchen table piled high with butts and beer cans and thousands of dollars. He lived in a pad in Utica with no street numbers. I talked to a couple of black guys at the door to find him. He gave me a thousand to go for cigarrettes, saying to keep the change and not to say he ever owed me anything. He went through the thousands in one day. He loved experimental prosody, had a gift for gab; his loquacity and sarcastic tone added a beautiful bass to his New Jersey accent; he liked to jive and put people on. He said he "talked more shit than the radio." Always laughing or snickering, mostly caustic, his religious motives more satirical than serious. His poetry had the same jazz, surrealist, existential, hip tones as did his "street-beat" contemporaries, Jack Micheline and Bob Kaufman. Though unlike Kaufman, social and political agendas didn't prevail, but set a tonal backbeat which made his linguistic experiments cohere or "work" in the sense that Jackson Pollack coined. He demanded from the listener, which sometimes caused unenlightened reporters to miss the poetry. His voice was of New Jersey, a proletariat east chemical coast flatlander. "What Jersey City Makes, the World Uses", he used to recite the sign for the prophylatic industry in his home town.