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)

One comment

  1. I think that my Grandma Anna(Chana) knew Allen Ginsberg’s Aunt Rose. Her married name was Ginsberg and she and my Grandpa also lived on Osborne Terrace in Newark. I myself lived in Newark with my family until I was 11 when we moved to the suburbs. This poem brings tears to my eyes. I find it very poignant.

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