An Elegy for Peter Orlovsky
By Steve Silberman
Saxifrage is my flower that splits the rocks
– William Carlos Williams
The night I met Allen Ginsberg in 1976, his lifelong companion Peter Orlovsky raised a handkerchief to Allen’s nose a fraction of a second before he sneezed. We were in a basement club in Greenwich Village commemorating the death of Neal Cassady, one of Allen’s great loves, and the muse of Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road. The poet had a bad cold, and it was his second reading of the night.
Anticipating Allen’s need for a handkerchief was just one way Peter manifested what photographer Elsa Dorfman called his “unearthly sensitivity and caring” in an email to a friend after Peter died last Sunday. Kids, animals, and growing things adored Peter. Just before writing “Howl,” Allen pledged his love to him, recognizing in him a character out of a Russian novel: the saintly shepherd, a holy innocent. In Foster’s cafeteria in San Francisco in 1955, the two men grasped hands and vowed never to go to heaven unless the other could get in — a true marriage of souls. “At that instant we looked into each other’s eyes,” Allen wrote, “and there was a kind of celestial cold fire that crept over us and blazed up and illuminated the entire cafeteria and made it an eternal place.” Continue >>