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Allen Ginsberg’s Kidney Stone

By Harriet Staff

Tyler Stoddard Smith wrote a personal essay for The Morning News about the time Allen Ginsberg stayed at his house for a few days. At the time, Smith was a young boy, and his father was a professor at Rice University, where he had invited Ginsberg to give a reading. The story is mostly sweet, with delightful portraits of Ginsberg playing video games and reading bedtime stories to the young’un:

My prized possession of the moment was an old plastic Kalashnikov that made a machine gun-like rata-tat-ratatat-ratata and while I paraded around in front of Ginsberg, I fired my gun into him, which he seemed to enjoy, indulging me with spot-on death rattles and war cries. I was even more thrilled to learn Ginsberg had been enlisted by The Clash to chant the Heart Sutra on “Ghetto Defendant.” Before my bedtime he read to me from Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends. Our favorite poem was “Captain Hook.” He said he knew Silverstein, said the man was “fucking crazy…maybe don’t tell your mom and pops I said that word.”

But then the narrative takes a funny turn, as Ginsberg tries to get Smith and his father into some meditation, and the two are unable to control their laughter. Then Ginsberg passes a kidney stone (!). Finally, on the way to the airport, the poet gives his would-be spiritual disciples one last chance, and asks them to join him in a mantra:

We nearly made it. An almost imperceptible snort by my father (or was it me?) and that was all it took. It was over. Blasphemous paroxysms of laughter echoed throughout the Toyota Carina as my father and I chanted our own unfortunate mantra: “We’re soooo sorry.” Disgusted, Ginsberg alighted himself from the family car, muttering, “You have a lot to learn about the perfection of wisdom, both of you,” grabbed his bag, and disappeared through the revolving doors of Houston Intercontinental Airport. I never wanted to feel the way I felt right then ever again: A witness to my own guts, crippling my dimensions like a constrictor…all for what? For a pinch of juvenile folly thrown into the grinder of boys.


Posted in Poetry News on Thursday, January 6th, 2011 by Harriet Staff.