Janine Pommy – Vega 1942 – 2010

by Jack Hirschman

 

How many inmates
are weeping
in their cells tonight,

having got the word:
Janine Pommy Vega
has died.

They adore her and
when she came
to them every month

they adored her more
and more and more
until poems broke out

of their mouths, for her.
She had instinct
to the quick that made

exuberance write poems
that surpassed the tick
of time’s dumb clock,

and made them stick
like flies to flypaper from
the ceiling of despair.

She once took me to the
Maximum Security wing
of a prison to read

my poetry, where I met
what seemed like the gang
at the candy – store corner
in The Bronx or Bedstuy:
there was Blackie,
there was Satch,

my old buddies, in that
clubroom, and they were
terrific poets now

because of Janine, who
spoke soul to them
and liberated it

from inside each.  O yes,
she’d been a friend
of Allen Ginsberg,

a lover of his lover, Peter
Orlovsky, for a spell,
and Andy Clauson when

her heart was attacked
by everything from
crippling arthritis, hep c,

and all those vestigial
bones of scag and
kabayo nights;

and O yes, Italian cities
and Sarajevo too
adored the way

she’d enthuse a crowd
reading poems with a
rhythmic maracas,

leaving audiences
lilting to themselves
after she left the stage.

But ah, and oh, it was
in prison, that university
of now, where she

turned men who’d killed
at 19, 20, 21 into voices
that went over the walls

leaving poems of liberty
liberating every yardbird
and all their wings.