PRINT February 2020

Fanny Howe

Dodrupchen Rinpoche at John Giorno’s Bunker, New York, June 24, 1989.

IN 1966, as John Giorno was moving into an abandoned YMCA on the Bowery in Lower Manhattan, I was moving into a joint at 36 Bowery, a few blocks away. I had a dog named Woofer, about three friends, and a typewriter to keep me going. My mind was traveling the same rails that John’s was. It’s worse than I thought, Everyone is a complete disappointment, Thanx for nothing, Life is a killer. Suicide sutra was one I would’ve wanted to learn.

Fifty years later, one of my only friends from back then, Charles Ruas, introduced me to John, still living on the Bowery, and John invited me to stay at the Bunker if I ever needed a room. I soon did and stayed for only one night, with my granddaughter and a friend. There, he made us dinner and we talked about religion, and then the girls went off to one room and I to another. There I lay, sleepless with a black-and-yellow bull’s-eye target (punctured) hanging on the wall beside me. William Burroughs had lived there for seven years, and the room itself was obsessed with guns.

Outside, twelve destitute men and women shouted and sang and slept or knocked things around, all acting more insane than I had been fifty years before.

Everything made a long-distance noise. Tibetan Buddhist ceremonial colors hung as if tossed out of another time. It was like a remnant factory.

I had recognized John, over the supper plates, as a born monastic in the spirit of those monks I already knew—two Zen, one hermit, five Benedictines, and a poet. He told jokes that he laughed at and described the tireless nature of his work preparing for a performance. Poetry has no rules, but it respects the discipline that sound requires. 

He cleaned the dishes. He went up the wide stairs to the upper loft where he slept among his houseplants and indoor trees. I knew he practiced Nyingma meditation, loved lots of people, and was detached from hideous human thoughts, though he knew they were there, and he told me he could fly across oceans and mountains without losing the mind he so cherished, the one without boundaries where wisdom and humor emerged as one. 

Fanny Howe is a poet whose most recent book is Love and I (Graywolf Press, 2019).