Thursday, February 2, 2023

A Supermarket in California

A Supermarket in California

   What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman, for I walked down the sidestreets under the trees with a headache self-conscious looking at the full moon.
    In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went into the neon fruit supermarket, dreaming of your enumerations!
    What peaches and what penumbras! Whole families shopping at night! Aisles full of husbands! Wives in the avocados, babies in the tomatoes!--and you, Garcia Lorca, what were you doing down by the watermelons?

    I saw you, Walt Whitman, childless, lonely old grubber, poking among the meats in the refrigerator and eyeing the grocery boys.
    I hear you asking questions of each: Who killed the pork chops? What price bananas? Are you my Angel?
    I wandered in and out of the brilliant stacks of cans following you, and followed in my imagination by the store detective.
    We strode down the open corridors together in our solitary fancy tasting artichokes, possessing every frozen delicacy, and never passing the cashier.

    Where are we going, Walt Whitman? The doors close in an hour. Which way does your beard point tonight?
     (I touch your book and dream of our odyssey in the supermarket and feel absurd.)
    Will we walk all night through solitary streets? The trees add shade to shade, lights out in the houses, we'll both be lonely.
    Will we stroll dreaming of the lost America of love past blue automobiles in driveways, home to our silent cottage?
    Ah, dear father, greybeard, lonely old courage-teacher, what America did you have when Charon quit poling his ferry and you got out on a smoking bank and stood watching the boat disappear on the black waters of Lethe?

-Allen Ginsburg

We're going to California later today & I was browsing around among California-ish poets for the occasion before reminding myself of this. This is from Howl and other poems, (1956) issued by City Lights Press. 

Will I soon be wandering down Columbus Avenue, poking among undersized volumes of poetry with boring black and white covers, and dreaming of you, Lawrence Ferlinghetti? Wandering in and out of the brilliant stacks of books? Possibly!

I once saw Allen Ginsburg give a reading, accompanying himself kind of tunelessly on a harmonium. He was actually pretty entertaining, that lonely old courage-teacher.


  1. Ooo, have a fun trip! Wave to the Campanile for me, I haven't been down there in ages. (Well come to think of it I did go to SF in October for a concert, but it was just there and back.)

  2. How cool that you got to see him do a reading!

  3. Well... I do always give Ginsburg another chance whenever I happen to meet with him again, I'll say that for myself.

    1. Yeah, I don't know about Ginsburg. He's programmatically the sort of thing I don't like, and yet, there are things of his I do.

    2. Way back when I was doing my BA at the University of Toronto, a friend was writing an essay on Ginsburg's poem Angkor Wat. We were walking around talking about it, one winter day, and happened to be passing the parkette at Spadina and Bloor. I took the book from him (the one pictured above), sat on top of the sculpted stack of dominoes, and began reading the poem aloud, with the intention of ridiculing its worthlessness. But as I read, I soon began to be won over by its lyricism, if nothing else. But I was man enough to admit it, I'll say that for myself.

    3. I must have read Angkor Wat before, but I'd completely forgotten it. Pretty good!

      I sometimes think of what Ginsburg does as less poetry than rhetoric. But if that's what it is he's capable of rhetoric of a very high quality.

      But like you, I want to dislike it, and I don't always succeed.