Riley, if you are still on this planet
And bones not moldering with Wyatt Earp’s in a Colma graveyard,
If you are still scuffling the streets of the Fillmore
In toebrokethough stained tennis shoes and
not chained in a state institution somewhere,
If your first-born child knows your face and thinks of you at all or even if she don’t, here is a song for you, sad-eyed leper.
First saw you barefoot, cross legged, eighteen, Lowell High School drop-out, Don Baudelaire’s new sidekick – you walked for peace together LA to San Francisco in the long ago 1962 you were arrested went to jail it was all the same to you. Before your intelligence was sucked from you like you juice from an orange.
You and Don lounging cool on our ratty mattress, bare except for Margarita’s unraveling Mexican blanket, dirty red and yellow. Baudelaire laughing as usual, heavy black rimmed glasses coming down his nose, spare black mustache crinkling up. You’re heroes to us, weary warriors of nonviolence.
Yes you were beautiful that morning surrounded by hippie girls, Riley, they loved you and made much of you – Teresa Sweetness, red haired, freckled, seventeen, wife of Mike Squaredoff, stuffy, square, and doctrinaire – saving to move to Yugoslavia to be free of the capitalist system. Teresa just wanted to be free of her mother.
And Leslie Chapman cozy between you and Baudelaire. She’s Don’s girl friend, straight black hair, satin skin, also seventeen. She lives with her rich mother in Pacific Heights but goes off balling with Don on his motorcycle.
Leslie, sweeter than Sweetness, brought over her Bob Dylan album. Nobody’s ever heard of him. “His voice is so scratchy and nice,” she says, “he doesn’t sound smooth like a singer.”
Riley, you sprawled there smiling, quiet, what were you thinking? In with these peacenik hippies, and hippies are white, all but you. You’re part of this scene of socialist politics and blue workshirts and Sing Out! Magazine, and pot smoking, beat poetry, and Miles Davis. What brought you to peace marches and demonstrations and this dusty mattress?
The four of you so young and cool and free as I look back on you from 2006 – your long sunny, moony youth still ahead of you. No pain or suicide or madness is evident as you pass the gallon jug of Val Vin burgundy from hand to hand.
Riley, two years later when I was out you hit on my wife. Me — your friend. I was pissed when she told me but you were too sad to stay angry with.
You had a blue sweater color of the sky – I could always see you coming through the fog. I’d be home lonely reading comic books, cutting out magazine pictures for collages, wondering what the fuck, with baby daughter napping in the bedroom. We’d get high and laugh and listen to Lighting Hopkins records, then you’d leave me – stoned and alone.
Riley in blue sweater and torn shoes, you had a wife too – sandy blonde beat girl who stuck by you and had your child. I came by to see you in your little madras bedspread one room pad on Fillmore Street but you were gone to score. She was alone and large with child. I felt sorry for her, only white girl on the block, vulnerable and you out to cop. But she was tough and capable and took care of both of you in the lowdown Fillmore pads you lived in – none for long.
Riley, one blue day in 1964 we drove down to Big Sur in my liver colored Studebaker Lark. Wandering back roads looking for a place to camp we met Ferlinghetti in a field – like a sage from the older world, like an Elder from Olympus in the fields of Big Sur. We camped by a stream and smoked pot as the sun went down on trembling creek waters. We all believed that summer 1964 you could get high smoking scotch broom – and we spent an afternoon in the fields of broom by the roadside picking and dodging bees. The smell of it — if only it had worked – angel Pacific glory.
We stopped at Big Sur Hot Springs (later Esalen Institute for new age wisdom gestalt therapy). Mimi Baez was singing at crowded party Big Sur hippies congregating in smoky dark dim kerosene light, surely after making art all day, wonderful paintings and poetry and novels. Such I still believed was the life of Bohemians. You didn’t think so. We waited for sister Joan to come, but she never did
We crashed at a cabin up a canyon, park car at head of canyon and trudged up to it in the mooney dark. One room, no water, bare boards, blonde Viking woman’s home to drink Red Mountain burgundy and smoke scotch broom blossoms in the night, hippies on the floor snoring as we toked.
Riley, you got heavier into drugs, heroin I suppose though I don’t know and I moved to the Haight-Ashbury. I didn’t see you any more except once flitting down a back street looking for a phantom fix – sad specter of the streets.
Last time I saw you was in 1975 on Haight Street. I was crossing the street going into Rodney Albin’s guitar shop and you appeared, losteyed. I was dressed in brown you thought I was driving truck for United Parcel congratulated me on getting a well paying gig. We shook hands in the gutter at the corner of Haight and Masonic and you disappeared into the traffic. Disappeared into the traffic like you’d never been there at all. You didn’t have the sweater anymore.