My two favorite Beat poets are the ones who were probably the most loyal to Buddhist practices and lived their lives the closest to Buddhist principles.
I mean Joanne Kyger and her (admitted) mentor Philip Whalen.
I recently returned to her Selected, As Ever (Penguin, 2002).
I'm always finding new things in these poems and almost always reading them completely differently than I did last year or the year before.
The poem I have been living with over the past few days is her "Burning the Baby to Make Him Realer."
This makes me think of Southwell's The Burning Babe (1595).
But that poem's conceit is Christian.
And Kyger's poem's burning babe is actually the one in the Demeter (or Diana, if you prefer) myth.
I don't remember all the particulars, but Demeter for some reason or other takes lodging with a mortal couple. And this couple has a baby or very young child.
In the middle of the night, Demeter decides to reward the mortals for their hospitality by making their child immortal.
She is holding the child out towards the flames of their fireplace when the child's mother awakens and comes into the room. She screams out of fear for her child's well-being. (She has no clue she's doing the Greek version of entertaining angels unaware.)
Demeter becomes irritated then and tells the woman how she has just deprived her son of immortality. And then the goddess flies off to Olympus in a pique of dudgeon.
It's actually one of those frustrating, funny Greek myths, because it's about how humans constantly miss the opportunity to become immortal on account of their shortsightedness.
But that's not the mother's fault! She had no idea. She was a good host and simply didn't understand what was happening. As if the Greek (or Roman) gods ever had to have a good reason for the crazy shit they do!
Kyger's poem starts out with this mythological baby from the Demeter myth, but then midpoem switches over to what seems to be a real child:
Gary says of the blond child
tensely crouching on the porch he's
not human.  : at 2/12 an unfaltering
icy blue stare in his eyes he DEMANDS
Both hands before him, uh-oh,
& his parents cower
what is it, what is it you want.
Gary is almost certainly the poet's ex-husband, Gary Snyder. But I'm thinking they might have still been married when this poem (which is early Kyger) was written.
The poem definitely strikes me as Buddhist.
The baby represents the desire/ego in all of us, the eternal child, wanting forever.
The parents are dooming the child with their capitulation, but this is not just a literal account of bad parenting or even only an allegory.
The troubling mote this poem leaves in the mind's eye is of course the other poet stating of the baby that "He's not human."
I take that to mean he's not begun to play the mind games demanded by society to keep the individual ego in place.
In a sense then the child is immortal, not human, but only in the sense that he personally represents the raw, natural forces of desire which are life itself.
The poem ends with the child grabbing virtually everything, trying to fill the hole of its desire: a wake of smashed cookies, crushed lipstick, wet cigarettes/& nervous haste, no joy(.)
Here she's definitely making it clear the "baby's" physical age is irrelevant. These are things adults throw into that hole of desire too.
The last line is a really masterful Buddhist koan and almost a complete poem in its own right--I'm thinking of Whalen's masterful one line poems in this enlightened vein.
She writes, "ripping the morning glories 3 times from the pot."
I really think that's Kyger's way of capturing the three (false in Buddhist practice) tenses of time which humans use to make sense of existence. Past. Present. And future. All traps according to Buddhist belief.
It's definitely a liberating push--she pushes you outside your body with that line.
She and Philip Whalen really end up as almost brother and sister in their poetry.
It's strange to think Kyger separated from a straight male poet (Snyder) and then married her mind (if not her body) to a gay male Buddhist poet.
But it makes sense once you know their respective poetry.
They are both spiritual stalwarts and each's poems reinforce the other's.
It's a quite beautiful congress of souls seeking escape.