Petaluma River Press

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Gerald Nicosia, the Beat historian and prolific author of many works, graciously allowed us to publish this poem he wrote after hearing about Gene's passing. You may like to visit Nicosia's web site:
Also see his poem about Philip Lamantia that follows the one for Gene. CM

Guardian of the Heart
for Gene Ruggles (1935-2004)

The opera didn’t end
Till the fat lady sang
And the poetry reading didn’t begin
Till the cab pulled up
With Gene Ruggles in it
I’m expecting that cab any minute now
And Gene will emerge
With the guilty grin he always had
From riding cabs
When he barely had money for food and wine
But he saved his money for good causes
And there was no higher cause to him
Than standing up for things you believed in
Which was what poetry was
For him, and why he cared
To see that justice was done to
All the left-out people on the planet
You heard it in his voice
Maybe the most extraordinary poet voice
I’ve heard in my lifetime
And I’ve heard a lot
It came from the very bottom of his soul
Rugged, hard, full of all the
Iron and copper in those Michigan hills
He grew up in
He spoke slowly, as if always
Carefully choosing each word
You felt the weight of each word as if he were
Handing you a brick to build
A house to nurture
Your own soul in
Or a fortress
Inside which to protect
All the less fortunate people on the planet
He wanted you to help him build those homes and fortresses
Till everyone was sheltered and protected
He wouldn’t rest
Or take care of himself
Till that grandest task of kindness was completed
He was our greatest bodhisattva
And like all bodhisattvas
He wore rags and lived on
Pizzas with everything and red wine
So that others could ride in carriages before him
He had that telltale quality of greatness
In that life was absolutely serious to him
As serious as the career of poetry
He’d dedicated himself to
But he was also never without a laugh
A word of wit or humor
To lighten your day
And when he talked to you
You always knew he cared about you
Not in the abstract way most people
“Care about humanity”
But he cared that he was speaking to you,
Only you, everything special about you
He took in with that shy up-from-under
Blue-eyed glance of his
And made you know he understood
And respected everything you were
And wanted you to have a part
The most precious part
Of himself
His words, his thoughts
His feelings and insights
And above all the passion he had
That this world be made right
Once and for all
And you knew in every word he said
And every poem he wrote
And every cause he stood up for
That he would not be satisfied
Till the work was done
And that he expected you,
That he entrusted you
To carry it on
After he was gone
Gene, old friend, I knew
That was a sacred trust
I could not take it more seriously
I promise you
I’ll do my best
To carry it on.
From one old church exile
To another
Pax Vobiscum!

--Gerald Nicosia


The Man Who Stopped To Say Hello
for Philip Lamantia (1927-2005)

Sweet Philip
You walked away from fame
When everyone else
Was walking toward it
I remember the beautiful leather huaraches
You wore at your final reading
At City Lights
That looked like you could walk forever
In them
Walking is how I’ll always remember you
Strolling one sunny Saturday past
The Savoy Tivoli
And Bob Kaufman calling to you
“Philip, come here!
There’s a biographer who wants
To talk to you!”
The biographer was me
And you’d been avoiding my studied letters
But now it was different
I was the friend of a friend
You stopped to say hello
And talked to me for two straight hours
About Jack Kerouac
And Dory Schary
And the Surrealist Manifesto
I could have listened to you forever
And I understood why Jack
Said you had the most magic voice of any man
He’d met
And finally you walked away,
Such a happy smile on your face
The world was the biggest treat imaginable
To you
You had to keep walking
To savor it all
Fame and money would have caused
Intolerable delays
You sauntered like Thoreau
And Grant Avenue was
Your Concord
Your small apartment
On Filbert Street
Made do as hermit’s cabin
And every poem you wrote
As original as Walden
Thoreau avoided worldly success
Just as you did
To be “captain of a huckleberry party”
And you were the captain
Of all the North Beach poets
Fueled by endless cappuccinos
And the dream of the unknown
You led us all to kinder realms
Than the world underfoot
And the truth of that was in the fact
That you always had time
And disposition
To stop and say hello
When the heart was calling.

--Gerald Nicosia


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I met Gene in 77==again spoke with him about 6 months before his death. He was a warm and original poet and his simplicity is like Lorca ---his deepest quality. Robb Kunkel