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a beat poet meditates on Walt Whitman

March 20, 2009

I think it’s fantastic that Allen Ginsberg co-founded and directed something called the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. How better to describe the poetic style of the leading proponent of Beat Poetry?

And since I am feeling un-moored and weary tonight (a beatnik minus the Benzedrine, if you will), I leave you with this poem by the master himself, and its everlasting image of Charon‘s boat from the banks of Lethe:

A Supermarket in California

-Allen Ginsberg

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, García 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 heard 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 a 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 automo-
biles in driveways, home to our silent cottage?
  Ah, dear father, graybeard, 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?

-Berkeley, 1955

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