There was the cough, slight, irritating, no
more than trying to clear my throat of some
minor obstruction. A test for tuberculosis,
negative; for ulcers, negative; x-rays, negative;
allergies, negative; a tropical disease specialist,
negative. Psychics came up with disastrous
dramatic past lives, but still the cough persisted.

One night I dreamed a nail lodged in my
throat. The next day, heeding the call of the
unconscious, I saw an Ear, Nose and Throat man.
A dryness in the larynx, nothing more, he gave me
some pills and off I went to India, reassured.

On the ghats of the Ganges, in Varanasi, Shiva’s
city, just one hit off the chillum with the naked
sadhus, my voice broke to a froggy whispery croak.

When I got back to the States I had the hard
lymph node above my collarbone taken out and
biopsied while the doctor and nurse listened and
laughed at the O. J. trial on the radio. I called next
Friday afternoon. “I’m sorry,” he said. “It’s not

Here we go, I thought, as the floor disappeared
beneath me.



A little cell
                        loses its way
goes astray
The gates of hell
                                     creak open
stench of sulfurous decay
A teenie tiny bit
                                    of living matter
A cell
Forgets to die
                               takes upon itself
to multiply
Little cell
                      where are you going?
Please stop growing
Like everything born
                                                both you and I
have our time to die
Don’t be a thorn
                                     in the soul of my life
don’t be a knife
in the heart
                           of my life
Go away you’ve had your fun
I’ve got things to do
                                            places to see
                                                                         races to run



This is ridiculous
What made these cells
A lazy immune system?
Pollution in Kathmandu.
Genetics. Mutation.
Cigarette smoke long ago.
Unexpressed anger.
Fear of love.
All or
None of the above.

This is ridiculous
A portacath in my chest
Thin clear plastic tubing
Delivering cysplatin and 5 FU.

Ensure for food
Morphine for pain
Marinol for appetite
Kytril for nausea
Ativan for sleep

Sit on the toilet
Shit and vomit at once

O This is ridiculous
And still
I’ll sing my song.



for Sidney Goldfarb

We talk of China, Japan
And Homer, of women
We have loved, on our way
Up to where the trail

Ends by the bare poles
Of a teepee; inside
On the muddy ground,
A sitar case, empty,
half-filled with snow.

When you bow to look
I notice, as if
For the first time,
How much gray is on your hair.

“The nice thing about climbing
A mountain,” you say,
Out of breath,
Watching the sun drop
Like a fiery bird
Through the pine branches
“Is that it puts a stop
To conversation.”

We stand there in the silence
Then, the old jew of the mountain,
And the one without home,
And the single star of Venus
Sets over snowpeaks to the West,
And to the East the full moon rises
Orange with dust from the plains
And I cannot hold back a thousand
Thoughts about time we shared
— It has passed like the wind
my friend, right through us.



As soon as I heard the familiar voice, “Hello, this is Allen,” on voice mail at work I knew who it was. “This is Allen Ginsberg. I’m in serious condition in Beth Israel Hospital, and it’s very important I speak with Rick Fields.”

As it turned out, I was one of probably hundreds of people Allen Ginsberg called before he died a few days later. When he reached me at home that night, his voice was weak and it was hard to make out all his words, and I didn’t feel like telling him to speak up or repeat himself. But that hardly mattered. As usual, he had important news, which he urgently, exuberantly wanted to share.

He said he’d been feeling “droopy and weary the last few months.” When he went into the hospital, they discovered a liver riddled with cancer. “The death sentence felt like a ripple of tranquillity,” he told me. “A beautiful strange intensity.”

He thought he might have three or four months to live, and he was looking forward, as usual, to getting a lot done. Friends were setting up a hospice in the large loft he had finally been able to buy after years in a cramped rent-controlled Lower East Side apartment. The new loft had lots of windows, he told me proudly, and he was, generous, as usual, setting up a room for his ninety-two-year-old stepmother.

His affairs were in order, he said, but he wanted to finish a CD of songs with old friend Bob Dylan, and a new book of poems — he’d been writing like crazy, following the advice of Gelek Rinpoche, his current Buddhist teacher, to “Keep a record of what it’s like to die calmly.”

“So I’m having a ball,” Allen told me, before he hung up for what would be the last time, though neither of us knew it then. “I’m having a ball, sleeping with my skeleton,” he said. “Bliss and fulfillment,” he said. “We spent a lot of time together,” he said. And left one last afterthought: “The love you have is the love you get,” he said.

I don’t know why or where it came from, but “Goodnight, sweet prince,” I said.



Coming out of the subway
I am hit by the sky again.
Love pours forth
And the thought —
You’re going to die
Ricky it’s true —




At the age of eight I had this purity this
uncomplicated this clear heart I had
a wrought-iron firetruck painted red and
gold it was from England wherever that was I
drove it moved it across the floor I was on the
floor the whole world was there with me the whole
world was burning the whole world is burning
Please please please Nobody else die! pleads Kurt
Vonnegut at a memorial for Allen Ginsberg. The
firetruck red and gold rolls toward a flat in
London burning in the blitz we will put out the
fire just wait another minute Don’t jump Don’t die
Help is on the way I will save the world with my
little firetruck.



Driving listening to syrupy
Indian crossover music
I suddenly burst
Suddenly broke
Into tears
Sweeping racking my body
Pouring out of my eyes
And I opened my mouth
With all my radiation
Scarred lungs
And kept on crying through
The Golden Gate Park
And over the Golden Gate Bridge.

Like a dam bursting
With a raspy voice you thought you’d silenced
Like a jungle vine choking a delicate flowering tree
Paralyzing the right vocal cord they said
Never come back more than a whisper they said
But I fooled them and you
I’ll sing sweet songs later
Right now all I want to do
Is scream shout yell
Fuck you cancer fuck you



On my fifty-fifth birthday
Two years to the day
From my first chemotherapy
I am still alive

Against all odds
They say. To celebrate
I meditate
For half a day
On strange Tibetan deities
wrathful and peaceful,
who rise and fall
with my breath
in emptiness.

Later in the day
A dip in the chill Pacific.
A wave lifts me up
Churns me down

Then a kayak
In Bolinas Lagoon
Seals pop up
In pairs like us
Curious, inquisitive,
Barking, protective

Two snowy egrets stand
Like sentries on stilts
Long necks coiled
Strike like snakes

Floating aimlessly
Rising and falling
Water flashing
From the curved blades.

What are the odds
Of being here today?
Golden sunlight.
Gentle breeze.
Green hills.
Drifting with the tide
From the rising sea.

These poems are excerpted
Fuck You, Cancer and
Other Poems, by Rick Fields.
© 1997 by Rick Fields. They
appear here by permission of the
author. To order, send ten
dollars to Rick Fields at 48
Shattuck Square, Box 42,
Berkeley, CA 94704.

— Ed.