To Aunt Rose – (Three Renditions)

One of Allen’s most accomplished early poems is our spotlight today – “To Aunt Rose” –  

“A memory flash 1958 Paris. My favorite Aunt Rose (1900-1940) took care of me weekends when my mother was ill – Books named are my late father Louis Ginsbergs. It was a big event to publish a volume of poetry in those days! –  Rose Gaidemak died of septicemia..”

This audio is taken from a reading at San Francisco State University’s Poetry Center on April 27, 1959. It was written in 1958 and published in 1961, included as part of the collection, Kaddish and Other Poems (1958-1960). 


Aunt Rose – now – might I see you
with your thin face and buck tooth smile and pain
             of rheumatism – and a long black heavy shoe
                              for your bony left leg

         limping down the long hall in Newark on the running carpet
                past the black grand piano

                                in the day room
                                             where the parties were

                and I sang Spanish loyalist songs
                   in a high squeaky voice
                               (hysterical) the committee listening 

                  while you limped around the room
                                  collected the money-
  Aunt Honey, Uncle Sam, a stranger with a cloth arm
        in his pocket
                and huge young bald head
                       of Abraham Lincoln Brigade

– your long sad face
            your tears of sexual frustration
               (what smothered sobs and bony hips
                            under the pillows of Osborne Terrace)
  – the time I stood on the toilet seat naked
       and you powdered my thighs with calamine
          against the poison ivy-my tender
                        and shamed first black curled hairs

  what were you thinking in secret heart then
        knowing me a man already –
and I an ignorant girl of family silence on the thin pedestal
        of my legs in the bathroom – Museum of Newark.

                                       Aunt Rose
Hitler is dead, Hitler is in Eternity; Hitler is with
     Tamburlane and Emily Bronte

Though I see you walking still, a ghost on Osborne Terrace
               down the long dark hall to the front door

                   limping a little with a pinched smile
                       in what must have been a silken
                                            flower dress
                  welcoming my father, the Poet, on his visit to Newark
                      – see you arriving in the living room

                                    dancing on your crippled leg
                      and clapping hands his book
                                     had been accepted by Liveright

Hitler is dead and Liveright’s gone out of business
The Attic of the Past and Everlasting Minute are out of print
             Uncle Harry sold his last silk stocking

           Claire quit interpretive dancing school
             Buba sits a wrinkled monument in Old
                           Ladies Home blinking at new babies

last time I saw you was the hospital
           pale skull protruding under ashen skin
              blue veined unconscious girl

                            in an oxygen tent 
           the war in Spain has ended long ago
                            Aunt Rose

Paris, June, 1958

Here’s another reading (slower, more measured) from approximately  the same time (from Robert Creeley‘s privately recorded tapes, featured on PennSound)

 & here, much much later, a rendition (accompanied by Marc Ribot on guitar (“delicate music box time travel invention” is how Allen describes it). Garo Yellin on cello, Ralph Carney on clarinet and Steve Swallow on bass – from Michael Minzer and Hal Willner’s 1989 The Lion For Real album on Great Jones Records (re-released in 1997 by Mouth Almighty Records) 

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