Thursday, March 27, 2014

Kaddish for Jack Shepard, 1937 - 2014

I was just sitting looking at this old football picture of Dad.  He’s standing in a muddy uniform after a game which took place on November 19th, 1956, thirteen years before I was born, the same month in 1969.  Looking at the picture, I see that Dad was number 64.  I had never noticed that before.  I was number 64 as well, back in the day.

So much of who I am now, the good, the bad, the silly, the irreverent, the irrelevant – is because of him.  Playing Cello for 14 years was because of him, studying Latin, reading poetry, getting involved in activism, studying friendships, making sense of queer theory, so much of this was all because of him.  It was from conversations, encouragement, late evening talks, sharing ideas, stories, movies, reflections, phone conversations.

Over the years, mostly we read stories and talked, and talked and talked.  For the last fifteen years, we drove around Texas together, getting lost in Mexico, listening to tunes New Orleans, eating crawfish in Beaubridge Louisiana.  We traded movie recommendations, and read poetry together up until the very, very end. Our conversations about his best friend Fred were the basis for my new book about rebel friendships.   We commiserated, argued, hung out at the Chelsea Hotel, protested, screamed, talked theology, and watched movies.  Every time I saw him, I learned something.

I loved reading poetry with him.  Even when he could not walk, the final scene of Macbeth rolled out of his mind from memory.
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

“That’s a depressed man,” Dad commented, as if to suggest he was not.

Dad always wanted to keep fighting, to keep living, and loving, and hanging out enjoy another day, another sunset, another movie, another story, even as his reading and traveling days came to an end.

He loved what life could give and never wanted to give it up.
Its odd to think of him now.  But I feel a huge connection, with a smiling man no long shackled down by the pain of this moral coil.

It was odd to call him in 1996 and tell him Allan Ginsberg had died fifteen years ago.  That weekend, he preached about the influence Allan and the beats had on him.  I’ll always preach and write and recall the influence he had on me. 

I’m glad you are not in pain anymore Dad.  As John confessed, I'm glad you could let go and take another journey. 

And I’m glad I knew and shared so many stories with you.

Thank you for accepting me and caring and telling so many stories, so many irreverent stories. 
Thank you for taking me on so many road trips.  Thank you for your smile and care.

Thank you Dad.

Thank you Dad.  Thank you. 
Jack Shepard presente.

I'll think of you and say a Kaddish for Jack Shepard. 

For Naomi Ginsberg, 1894—1956
Strange now to think of you, gone without corsets & eyes, while I walk on the sunny pavement of Greenwich Village.
downtown Manhattan, clear winter noon, and I’ve been up all night, talking, talking, reading the Kaddish aloud, listening to Ray Charles blues shout blind on the phonograph
the rhythm the rhythm—and your memory in my head three years after—And read Adonais’ last triumphant stanzas aloud—wept, realizing how we suffer—
And how Death is that remedy all singers dream of, sing, remember, prophesy as in the Hebrew Anthem, or the Buddhist Book of Answers—and my own imagination of a withered leaf—at dawn—
Dreaming back thru life, Your time—and mine accelerating toward Apocalypse,
the final moment—the flower burning in the Day—and what comes after,   
looking back on the mind itself that saw an American city
a flash away, and the great dream of Me or China, or you and a phantom Russia, or a crumpled bed that never existed—
like a poem in the dark—escaped back to Oblivion—
No more to say, and nothing to weep for but the Beings in the Dream, trapped in its disappearance,
sighing, screaming with it, buying and selling pieces of phantom, worshipping each other,
worshipping the God included in it all—longing or inevitability?—while it lasts, a Vision—anything more?
It leaps about me, as I go out and walk the street, look back over my shoulder, Seventh Avenue, the battlements of window office buildings shouldering each other high, under a cloud, tall as the sky an instant—and the sky above—an old blue place.

or down the Avenue to the south, to—as I walk toward the Lower East Side—where you walked 50 years ago, little girl—from Russia, eating the first poisonous tomatoes of America—frightened on the dock—


  1. Ben, I always loved the stories you told of your Dad--both from the distant past and when you would tell me about something he just said the day before when you had just been hanging out with him. Much love to you and your family in this time and forever.

    1. thank you larry... thank you friend. your friendship means so much.

      its all a living theater we are all sharing in this globe theater. the world outside the stage is really the illusion. the real world is the stage he reminded me over and over. now its up to us to keep performing in it.

  2. Ben, your dad was a wonderful man. I remember how brilliant he was. I enjoyed listening to him talk. I was always impressed with how much he cared about you. I watched you grow and grow up under his formative influence and guidance. The universe is brighter because of him.

    1. Thanks XICO.
      You're the best.
      Your words mean a great deal to me.
      Big love bs