“Think about your future, baby, forget about your used to be.” – “Confessin’ the Blues,” Jay McShann, Walter Brown
“I had a father complex,” Nena laughed –
more self-conscious than amused –
“so even though he was twenty years older
and my first impression of Tim
was he was
overweight, boring, full of himself,
we married, went to India together
for the enlightenment.
But it didn’t last even a year.”
Ever since the photographer Parkinson
discovered her in Stockholm
when she was just fourteen,
Nena’d never had time
to think things through,
the big questions about life, purpose:
the whirlwind modeling career,
Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar,
the Village types, her movie
with Edie Sedgwick, Warhol’s superstar actress,
the disastrous marriage with Tim –
Pennebaker’s You’re Nobody Til Somebody Loves You.
“I met Robert in the kitchen at Millbrook,
when I was begging Tim for a divorce.
He was trying to persuade Tim to stop
taking so many drugs.
Learning about Buddhism from Robert felt like déjà vu.
What serendipity, meeting my husband there!
It’s like a skateboard is hovering
just outside your door.
You can close the door,
or you can jump on and take a ride.”
Working on a Noble Cause
Looking for an alternative
to bullets and bombs,
during the Cold War,
Lieutenant Colonel James Ketchum, MD,
experimented with psychedelics
on hundreds of healthy soldiers –
drugs that caused delirium –
PCP, LSD, BZ.
Though volunteers weren’t told
what they were taking,
how they might react –
“not really informed at all,”
according to the chief medical officer –
Ketchum declared they’d
“performed a patriotic service,
not guinea pigs at all.”
Ketchum built padded cells
for test subjects taking drugs,
filmed stoned soldiers
in a makeshift “outpost,”
like a Hollywood movie set.
Another brainchild, Project Dork,
examined using BZ on the battlefield
to stupefy enemy soldiers.
No need to shoot them;
just get them wrecked!
But still, he said he struggled
with the duties of a doctor
and those of a soldier, convinced
“I am doing more the right thing
than the wrong thing.”
Attempting to Turn on Tillich
Leary and Alpert tried to recruit
people from Harvard Divinity School
to replace the psychotic model the psychologists used
with a mystic model,
to explain the psychedelic experience.
Harvey Cox, author of the bestselling Secular City,
almost tempted but turned them down,
though they’d mentioned the religious imagery
Concord Prison inmates had used
to describe the experience.
“Some are seeing hell,” they said,
“Others are having beatific visions.’
One morning they encountered the great Christian existentialist,
Paul Tillich, having breakfast in a restaurant,
invited him to join the research.
The grand German theologian, who dropped wisdom
like a groundskeeper scattering seed –
Loneliness expresses the pain of being alone.
Solitude expresses the glory of being alone.
The courage to be
is the courage to accept oneself,
in spite of being unacceptable –
likewise declined the offer.
“Do you really think that this
is for someone like me?” he growled.
“Someone who grew up in a medieval German town
with all its culture?
Do you really think all that tradition
can be found in the form of a pill?”
“Yes!” Leary and Alpert exclaimed.
Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for BrickHouse Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. A chapbook of poems, Me and Sal Paradise, was published last year by FutureCycle Press. Two full-length collections are forthcoming in 2020, Catastroika, from Apprentice House, and Ugler Lee from Kelsay Books.
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