From INFATUATION: Dhalinka Muse (Memoir of Alison Winfield Burns, excerpt from
1983 The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics)
Bombay Gin, 38.2, June 2012, Naropa Press
Naropa has dances in the evenings. I wear silks and chiffons and antique laces. One night,
I go to a dance and wear a corn-flower blue chiffon from 1920. The hem is to mid-calf and
falls in long leaves of fabric. The neckline is ivory and the buttons are genuine pearls, set with
rhinestones. I drink at the dance and get a little drunk. My best friends, Suzy Banay and Sam
Kashner are both there. I run off when nobody is looking, and I run home to Tenth Street,
barefooted, as fast as I can, all by myself, late in the evening, just for the lark sake of doing the
deed. The next day at Naropa, Suzy says that she was worried.
Sam, Suzy, Nina Zivancevik, and Denyse King are all pals of mine that summer. We play
and play. We go out to talk, and I drink more than anyone else, having read Hemingway’s A
Moveable Feast at age 15 and adopting his Parisian cafe lifestyle as one to emulate, for better
or for worse. Sam wears snakeskin boots and walks to my window on 10th Street at night to call
up, “Juliet!” Sam is my life-long personal hero.
I write, and Larry Fagin keeps an eye on me because I am still a teenager, a child really. I see
him every day. We have class upstairs on Pearl Street at Naropa and afterward, we head over
to a bar on street level called Pearls.
Michael Brownstein joins us sometimes for conversation. Michael is one of my favourite poets.
He has just written, Highway to the Sky; he writes inside the cover of my copy, “Love at the
beginning.” We tell each other of our poems, and I listen eagerly to Larry and Michael talk
about things that happened before I came to Naropa and met them all.
At some point early on during my sojourn, I meet Allen Ginsberg. He invites me to his house
on Mapleton. Peter Orlovsky is there, cooking dinner for the three of us. We will have shrimp
spaghetti and pink wine. Allen says that I should go sit in the front room at the piano and play
for him the Maple Leaf Rag (composed by Scott Joplin). I play rather badly, but I play it all the
same; the sun coming through the window is still strong in the late afternoon.
"Now we want you to tell us your life story," says Allen.
And afterward, after the life story and the repast, Peter and Allen seem protective of my welfare
(they exchange glances during the meal when I tell about the abusive parts). I never forget their
many sweetnesses to me. Allen and Peter are generous and very kindhearted. “They were
good people,” I say when I read at Peter’s memorial almost 30 years later. Nearly 600 people
attend; Allen and Peter are popular lads. Patti Smith plays guitar.
As read September 22, 2010 at St. Mark’s Poetry Project Memorial for Orlovsky:
Peter likes to wear blue
Suits and sandals with socks.
A shirt of the “frist” blue
A tie of the first and last blue
And all else should be cerulean.
Peter is the best love
And he will have his own dove.
One day on a street corner, Allen gives me his handwritten journal from a visit that he made
to Rome. He says that I can type this up for him, but I am more interested in playing than in
I phone over to Allen's house, looking for Peter. I want him to go out to Pearls with me. Allen
answers the phone. He gives me, as he does to everyone, a run-down on his bodily functions
and state of liver health. Then he calls Peter to the phone, but Peter wants to know who
it is before taking the call. I hear Allen say sotto voce, "Alison Burns, you know, the really
pretty girl," and Peter tells me that we will go right away to Pearls. We meet there, and Peter
is wearing a suit, a suit of many blues, all in striking contrast, and he is wearing socks and
sandals. Whatever Peter wears, he is incredibly handsome. My friend, Denyse, is in love with
Peter and they are seriously dating. Denyse has flame red hair and alabaster skin. Suzy’s hair
is a long blond rope of ponytail, like Orlovsky’s. Sam and I have raven locks.
At a gathering of international poets for the Kerouac Festival, we are all over at Allen's house.
Upstairs, Peter has assembled some East European men, poets and writers. Peter comes down
talking about massage oil. Someone has just given him a gift of this oil. Peter asks me if I will
let him apply the massage oil all over my body. He asks me several times because he really
wants to do it, but I say, "Peter, no!" I stay downstairs and don't know what if anything ever
happens regarding the gift of new oil.
At a formal Buddhist reception the next day, hosted by Trungpa Rinpoche, Peter breaks
protocol, calling loudly across the room and across the stoic Vajra Guard, "Alison! Alison, you
were so right. I am glad that you did not let me apply the massage oil!"
Even Allen looks disconcerted at this outburst. I rush over and joyously greet Peter,
delighted. I am wearing a long, zebra-print dress and Trungpa says things like “still I remain
chrysanthemum.” The Chilean ambassador is present.
Larry writes a poem for me when I leave Boulder in 1983. Larry publishes one of my poems
in 1991, in List Poem, and so I take the liberty of describing his now in Dhalinka Muse. Larry
writes that a fish has a sweater of senses and a hummingbird one wing. I shouldn’t go away but
instead have a heart, since every rock in the world is just wadded up gold foil.
There's a longish poem of Kerouac's, imagining all his friends and family in heaven--Allen will be
in ecstasies/Peter Amazed. It goes on like that.
She-Wolf of Rome: 30” x 22” Pencil on Paper, Original Drawing by Alison Burns aka Winfield,
Alison Burns studied painting at Columbia University, the New York Academy of Art, the Water
Street Atelier, and the National Academy of Design. Alison is a poet from Naropa Institute’s
Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics and a former research fellow at Caltech, NASA,
and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. She received her B.S. and B.A. from Columbia University.
Alison lives in Manhattan and is a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution.