Yesterday evening I answered the telephone and found my friend Indra Tamang on the other end, telling me that about ten minutes before, Ira Cohen had died. When I learned a few days ago that Ira was in Saint Luke’s Hospital, failing fast, surrounded by the people closest to him, I thought: I won’t go. Or maybe I will. What should I do? With Indra’s call it was suddenly over. I remembered one night, standing on East Houston Street with Penny Arcade, who remarked that when the day came for Ira Cohen, it would come as a shock to everyone who knew him, no matter how much we all might think we were prepared.
A few entries from my diary about Ira:
12 April 2000
Out with Ira to the copy shop to make copies of 15 poems and he swiped a marking pen with gold ink. We took a few snapshots outside. Ira likes to take photos with signs in the background. He was saying how a picture of Kerouac on 42nd Street is suddenly timely and nostalgic because of the movie marquee in the background, spelling out "THE WILD ONE" and "MARLON BRANDO" which, at the time the picture was taken, meant nothing special but sooner or later everything becomes nostalgic.
23 January 2001
Gregory Corso laid out at the Perazzo Brothers funeral home. Marty Matz began to cry when he saw Gregory, and Pilar dog comforted him. Afterwards I held Pilar up to the window of Faicco’s pork store so she could look at the sausages. The butcher showed her a huge slab of meat, and he and all the other butchers had a laugh, and then along came Ira. The sun shone beautifully in his beard as he stood there on Bleecker street and I told him so. He gave me a kiss and told me that if ever he gets mad and yells at me to forgive him in advance. (Earlier today on the phone he was pissed off because Our Lady of Pompeii refused to have poems in the church at Gregory’s funeral tomorrow, but Patti Smith gets to sing two songs.)
18 November 2001
Marty Matz’s memorial at the Cantor Film Center on 8th Street. Took Pilar in her bag. We sat in the rear and I took Pilar out and set her on my lap. Suddenly there was a man behind us hemming and hawing and saying, “So, you got past the guard, hmmm, well, you know…” I told him if he was going to tell me I had to leave with the dog to just spit it out and get it over with, and he said he’d pretend he hadn’t seen her and went away. Ira was the host, and just at that moment he asked for Pilar to come to the podium, since she was such a good friend of Marty’s, and Pilar was appropriately grave at the microphone.
At 11 PM answered phone/Ira. He told me about Paulita Sedgwick, cousin of Edie and sister of Susanna (who she looks very much like) how much he likes her--knows her for many years--and how she turned him down for a kiss at his 36th birthday party, so he turned to Gianfranco Mantegna, who was sitting next to him on the other side, and stuck his tongue down Gianfranco’s throat instead.
22 July 2004
On the phone Ira talked about how he and a kid named Richard Raskind were in the same class at Horace Mann and how later Richard had a sex change and became Renee Richards who was Navratilova’s tennis coach and also a famous eye surgeon. At the class reunion, there she was, Renee Richards, and she looked at Ira’s eye and said, “Oh, that’s a papilloma. Come to my office and I’ll get rid of that in ten minutes.”
6 January 2005
As the E train came into the station I saw that the driver was a glowering person in a turban who looked like Ira.
8 October 2005
Talked to Ira on the phone in his hospital room. He said they keep asking him questions to see if he has dementia. They ask him who the president is and he says, “Fuckhead!” and they don’t argue.
May 23 May 2006
Ira had another stroke. Went up to see him at Lenox Hill on 77th Street. He was still Ira, talking about the bottle of personal hygiene spray they had given him for his “perineum.” He kept scaring Raphael by pretending to have a heart attack and Raphael kept saying, “Pop, you gotta stop doing that, you’re scaring me.”
30 May 2006
To visit Ira at the Jewish Home on West 106th btw Amsterdam/Columbus. He talked about making the Thunderbolt Pagoda movie. Then he farted and got up and walked by himself to the bathroom to poop, and told me all about it when he came out.
Last summer Ira spent a few weeks in the Chelsea Hotel while his apartment was being fumigated for bedbugs, and I was glad to have him right here in the neighborhood so I could go over and visit. I saw him a lot at the Chelsea, once upon a time, in Vali Myers’ room when she lived there. Ira’s memory was shot by last summer, but even so diminished he was still a thousand times more interesting to talk to than most people who have all their faculties intact. Passing the Chelsea Hotel today, I realized that I saw Ira both for the very first and for the very last time at the Living Theater. The last time was November 2010. He looked very good in a purple and black shirt and a black hat, sitting in a wheelchair. He said, “If I knew you were coming I would have brought a cake.”
Of course I thought I’d see Ira again. Penny Arcade was right. There’s no preparing for the loss of so dear, marvelous and irascible a wizard.
Ira Cohen 1935-2011
26 April 2011