13 Apr 2018

What Went Into William Burroughs Coffin With His Dead Body

William S. Burroughs, born 1914 in St. Louis — died 1997 in Lawrence, KS. “The thing I like about Kansas is that it’s not nearly as violent [as New York City], and it’s a helluva lot cheaper. And I can get out in the country and fish and shoot and whatnot.”

From three poems by John Giorno:

About ten in the morning on Tuesday, August 6, 1997, James Grauerholz and Ira Silverberg came to William’s house to pick out the clothes for the funeral director to put on William’s corpse. His clothes were in a closet in my room. And we picked the things to go into William’s coffin and grave, accompaning him on his journey in the underworld.

His most favorite gun, a 38 special snub-nose, fully loaded with five shots. He called it, “The snubby.” The gun was my idea. “This is very important!” William always said you can never be too well armed in any situation. Of his more than 80 world-class guns, it was his favorite. He often wore it on his belt during the day, and slept with it, fully loaded, on his right side, under the bedsheet, every night for fifteen years.

Grey fedora. He always wore a hat when he went out. We wanted his consciousness to feel perfectly at ease, dead.

His favorite cane, a sword cane made of hickory with a light rosewood finish.

Sport jacket, black with a dark green tint. We rummaged through the closet and it was the best of his shabby clothes, and smelling sweetly of him.

Blue jeans, the least worn ones were the only ones clean.

Red bandana. He always kept one in his back pocket.

Jockey underwear and socks.

Black shoes. The ones he wore when he performed. I thought the old brown ones, that he wore all the time, because they were comfortable. James Grauerholz insisted, “There’s an old CIA slang that says getting a new assignment is getting new shoes.”

White shirt. We had bought it in a men’s shop in Beverly Hills in 1981 on The Red Night Tour. It was his best shirt, all the others were a bit ragged, and even though it had become tight, he’d lost alot of weight, and we thought it would fit. James said, “Don’t they slit it down the back anyway.”

Necktie, blue, hand painted by William.

Moroccan vest, green velvet with gold brocade trim, given him by Brion Gysin, twenty-five years before.

In his lapel button hole, the rosette of the French government’s Commandeur Des Arts et Lettres, and the rosette of the American Academy Of Arts and Letters, honors which William very much appreciated.

A gold coin in his pants pocket. A gold 19th Century Indian head five dollar piece, symbolizing all wealth. William would have enough money to buy his way in the underworld.

His eyeglasses in his outside breast pocket.

A ball point pen, the kind he always used. “He was a writer!”, and wrote long hand.

A joint of really good grass.

Heroin. Before the funeral service, Grant Hart slipped a small white paper packet into William’s pocket. “Nobody’s going to bust him.” said Grant. William, bejewelled with all his adornments, was travelling in the underworld.

Not exactly my idea of a poem, but I do like many of the funerary offerings accompanying William Burroughs across the Styx.


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