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For Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1919-2021)

Celebrating Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1919-2021), anarchist, poet, publisher of the Beat poets, and founder of City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, who died on February 22, 2021.

Originally published by Autonomies.

I Am Waiting

I am waiting for my case to come up   
and I am waiting
for a rebirth of wonder
and I am waiting for someone
to really discover America
and wail
and I am waiting   
for the discovery
of a new symbolic western frontier   
and I am waiting   
for the American Eagle
to really spread its wings
and straighten up and fly right
and I am waiting
for the Age of Anxiety
to drop dead
and I am waiting
for the war to be fought
which will make the world safe
for anarchy
and I am waiting
for the final withering away
of all governments
and I am perpetually awaiting
a rebirth of wonder

I am waiting for the Second Coming   
and I am waiting
for a religious revival
to sweep thru the state of Arizona   
and I am waiting
for the Grapes of Wrath to be stored   
and I am waiting
for them to prove
that God is really American
and I am waiting
to see God on television
piped onto church altars
if only they can find   
the right channel   
to tune in on
and I am waiting
for the Last Supper to be served again
with a strange new appetizer
and I am perpetually awaiting
a rebirth of wonder

I am waiting for my number to be called
and I am waiting
for the Salvation Army to take over
and I am waiting
for the meek to be blessed
and inherit the earth   
without taxes
and I am waiting
for forests and animals
to reclaim the earth as theirs
and I am waiting
for a way to be devised
to destroy all nationalisms
without killing anybody
and I am waiting
for linnets and planets to fall like rain
and I am waiting for lovers and weepers
to lie down together again
in a new rebirth of wonder

I am waiting for the Great Divide to be crossed   
and I am anxiously waiting
for the secret of eternal life to be discovered   
by an obscure general practitioner
and I am waiting
for the storms of life
to be over
and I am waiting
to set sail for happiness
and I am waiting
for a reconstructed Mayflower
to reach America
with its picture story and tv rights
sold in advance to the natives
and I am waiting
for the lost music to sound again
in the Lost Continent
in a new rebirth of wonder

I am waiting for the day
that maketh all things clear
and I am awaiting retribution
for what America did   
to Tom Sawyer   
and I am waiting
for Alice in Wonderland
to retransmit to me
her total dream of innocence
and I am waiting
for Childe Roland to come
to the final darkest tower
and I am waiting   
for Aphrodite
to grow live arms
at a final disarmament conference
in a new rebirth of wonder

I am waiting
to get some intimations
of immortality
by recollecting my early childhood
and I am waiting
for the green mornings to come again   
youth’s dumb green fields come back again
and I am waiting
for some strains of unpremeditated art
to shake my typewriter
and I am waiting to write
the great indelible poem
and I am waiting
for the last long careless rapture
and I am perpetually waiting
for the fleeing lovers on the Grecian Urn   
to catch each other up at last
and embrace
and I am awaiting   
perpetually and forever
a renaissance of wonder

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, “I Am Waiting” from A Coney Island of the Mind, 1958.


In Goya’s Greatest Scenes We Seem to See . . .

In Goya’s greatest scenes we seem to see
                                           the people of the world   
       exactly at the moment when
             they first attained the title of
                                                             ‘suffering humanity’   
          They writhe upon the page
                                        in a veritable rage
                                                                of adversity   
          Heaped up
                     groaning with babies and bayonets
                                                       under cement skies   
            in an abstract landscape of blasted trees
                  bent statues bats wings and beaks
                               slippery gibbets
                  cadavers and carnivorous cocks
            and all the final hollering monsters
                  of the
                           ‘imagination of disaster’
            they are so bloody real
                                        it is as if they really still existed

    And they do

                  Only the landscape is changed

They still are ranged along the roads   
          plagued by legionnaires
                     false windmills and demented roosters
They are the same people
                                     only further from home
      on freeways fifty lanes wide
                              on a concrete continent
                                        spaced with bland billboards   
                        illustrating imbecile illusions of happiness

                        The scene shows fewer tumbrils
                                                but more strung-out citizens
                                                                     in painted cars
                               and they have strange license plates   
                           and engines
                                           that devour America

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, “In Goya’s Greatest Scenes We Seem to See…” from Coney Island of the Mind, 1958. 



Constantly Risking Absurdity (#15)

Constantly risking absurdity
                                             and death
            whenever he performs
                                        above the heads
                                                            of his audience
   the poet like an acrobat
                                 climbs on rime
                                          to a high wire of his own making
and balancing on eyebeams
                                     above a sea of faces
             paces his way
                               to the other side of day
    performing entrechats
                               and sleight-of-foot tricks
and other high theatrics
                               and all without mistaking
                     any thing
                               for what it may not be

       For he’s the super realist
                                     who must perforce perceive
                   taut truth
                                 before the taking of each stance or step
in his supposed advance
                                  toward that still higher perch
where Beauty stands and waits
                                     with gravity
                                                to start her death-defying leap

      And he
             a little charleychaplin man
                                           who may or may not catch
               her fair eternal form
                                     spreadeagled in the empty air
                  of existence

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, “Constantly Risking Absurdity (#15)” from A Coney Island of the Mind: Poems, 1958.



Autobiography

I am leading a quiet life   
in Mike’s Place every day   
watching the champs
of the Dante Billiard Parlor   
and the French pinball addicts.   
I am leading a quiet life   
on lower East Broadway.   
I am an American.
I was an American boy.
I read the American Boy Magazine   
and became a boy scout   
in the suburbs.
I thought I was Tom Sawyer   
catching crayfish in the Bronx River
and imagining the Mississippi.   
I had a baseball mit
and an American Flyer bike.
I delivered the Woman’s Home Companion   
at five in the afternoon
or the Herald Trib
at five in the morning.
I still can hear the paper thump   
on lost porches.
I had an unhappy childhood.   
I saw Lindbergh land.
I looked homeward
and saw no angel.
I got caught stealing pencils
from the Five and Ten Cent Store   
the same month I made Eagle Scout.
I chopped trees for the CCC   
and sat on them.
I landed in Normandy
in a rowboat that turned over.
I have seen the educated armies
on the beach at Dover.
I have seen Egyptian pilots in purple clouds   
shopkeepers rolling up their blinds   
at midday
potato salad and dandelions
at anarchist picnics.
I am reading ‘Lorna Doone’
and a life of John Most
terror of the industrialist
a bomb on his desk at all times.
I have seen the garbagemen parade   
in the Columbus Day Parade
behind the glib
farting trumpeters.
I have not been out to the Cloisters   
in a long time
nor to the Tuileries
but I still keep thinking
of going.
I have seen the garbagemen parade   
when it was snowing.
I have eaten hotdogs in ballparks.
I have heard the Gettysburg Address   
and the Ginsberg Address.
I like it here
and I won’t go back
where I came from.
I too have ridden boxcars boxcars boxcars.   
I have travelled among unknown men.   
I have been in Asia
with Noah in the Ark.
I was in India
when Rome was built.
I have been in the Manger
with an Ass.
I have seen the Eternal Distributor   
from a White Hill
in South San Francisco
and the Laughing Woman at Loona Park   
outside the Fun House
in a great rainstorm
still laughing.
I have heard the sound of revelry   
by night.
I have wandered lonely
as a crowd.
I am leading a quiet life
outside of Mike’s Place every day   
watching the world walk by
in its curious shoes.
I once started out
to walk around the world
but ended up in Brooklyn.
That Bridge was too much for me.   
I have engaged in silence
exile and cunning.
I flew too near the sun
and my wax wings fell off.
I am looking for my Old Man   
whom I never knew.
I am looking for the Lost Leader   
with whom I flew.
Young men should be explorers.   
Home is where one starts from.   
But Mother never told me
there’d be scenes like this.
Womb-weary
I rest
I have travelled.
I have seen goof city.
I have seen the mass mess.
I have heard Kid Ory cry.
I have heard a trombone preach.   
I have heard Debussy
strained thru a sheet.
I have slept in a hundred islands
where books were trees.   
I have heard the birds   
that sound like bells.
I have worn grey flannel trousers
and walked upon the beach of hell.
I have dwelt in a hundred cities
where trees were books.
What subways what taxis what cafes!
What women with blind breasts
limbs lost among skyscrapers!
I have seen the statues of heroes
at carrefours.
Danton weeping at a metro entrance
Columbus in Barcelona
pointing Westward up the Ramblas
toward the American Express   
Lincoln in his stony chair   
And a great Stone Face   
in North Dakota.
I know that Columbus   
did not invent America.
I have heard a hundred housebroken Ezra Pounds.   
They should all be freed.   
It is long since I was a herdsman.
I am leading a quiet life   
in Mike’s Place every day   
reading the Classified columns.
I have read the Reader’s Digest
from cover to cover
and noted the close identification
of the United States and the Promised Land
where every coin is marked   
In God We Trust
but the dollar bills do not have it
being gods unto themselves.   
I read the Want Ads daily   
looking for a stone a leaf   
an unfound door.
I hear America singing
in the Yellow Pages.
One could never tell
the soul has its rages.
I read the papers every day   
and hear humanity amiss
in the sad plethora of print.
I see where Walden Pond has been drained   
to make an amusement park.   
I see they’re making Melville   
eat his whale.
I see another war is coming   
but I won’t be there to fight it.   
I have read the writing
on the outhouse wall.
I helped Kilroy write it.
I marched up Fifth Avenue
blowing on a bugle in a tight platoon   
but hurried back to the Casbah   
looking for my dog.
I see a similarity
between dogs and me.
Dogs are the true observers   
walking up and down the world   
thru the Molloy country.
I have walked down alleys   
too narrow for Chryslers.
I have seen a hundred horseless milkwagons   
in a vacant lot in Astoria.
Ben Shahn never painted them   
but they’re there
askew in Astoria.
I have heard the junkman’s obbligato.   
I have ridden superhighways   
and believed the billboard’s promises   
Crossed the Jersey Flats
and seen the Cities of the Plain
And wallowed in the wilds of Westchester
with its roving bands of natives
in stationwagons.
I have seen them.
I am the man.   
I was there.   
I suffered
somewhat.
I am an American.
I have a passport.
I did not suffer in public.
And I’m too young to die.
I am a selfmade man.
And I have plans for the future.
I am in line   
for a top job.
I may be moving on
to Detroit.
I am only temporarily
a tie salesman.
I am a good Joe.
I am an open book
to my boss.
I am a complete mystery
to my closest friends.
I am leading a quiet life
in Mike’s Place every day   
contemplating my navel.
I am a part
of the body’s long madness.
I have wandered in various nightwoods.   
I have leaned in drunken doorways.
I have written wild stories
without punctuation.
I am the man.
I was there.   
I suffered   
somewhat.
I have sat in an uneasy chair.
I am a tear of the sun.   
I am a hill
where poets run.
I invented the alphabet
after watching the flight of cranes   
who made letters with their legs.
I am a lake upon a plain.   
I am a word
in a tree.
I am a hill of poetry.   
I am a raid
on the inarticulate.
I have dreamt
that all my teeth fell out   
but my tongue lived   
to tell the tale.
For I am a still
of poetry.
I am a bank of song.   
I am a playerpiano
in an abandoned casino   
on a seaside esplanade   
in a dense fog
still playing.
I see a similarity
between the Laughing Woman
and myself.
I have heard the sound of summer   
in the rain.
I have seen girls on boardwalks   
have complicated sensations.   
I understand their hesitations.
I am a gatherer of fruit.   
I have seen how kisses   
cause euphoria.
I have risked enchantment.   
I have seen the Virgin   
in an appletree at Chartres
And Saint Joan burn
at the Bella Union.
I have seen giraffes in junglejims
their necks like love
wound around the iron circumstances   
of the world.
I have seen the Venus Aphrodite   
armless in her drafty corridor.   
I have heard a siren sing   
at One Fifth Avenue.
I have seen the White Goddess dancing   
in the Rue des Beaux Arts   
on the Fourteenth of July   
and the Beautiful Dame Without Mercy   
picking her nose in Chumley’s.   
She did not speak English.   
She had yellow hair
and a hoarse voice
I am leading a quiet life   
in Mike’s Place every day   
watching the pocket pool players   
making the minestrone scene   
wolfing the macaronis   
and I have read somewhere   
the Meaning of Existence   
yet have forgotten
just exactly where.
But I am the man
And I’ll be there.
And I may cause the lips   
of those who are asleep   
to speak.
And I may make my notebooks   
into sheaves of grass.   
And I may write my own   
eponymous epitaph
instructing the horsemen   
to pass.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, “Autobiography” from A Coney Island of the Mind, 1958.


I am signaling you through the flames. The North Pole is not where it used to be. Manifest Destiny is no longer manifest. Civilization self-destructs. The goddess Nemesis is knocking at the door…

What are poets for in such an age? What is the use of poetry? If you would be a poet, create works capable of answering the challenge of Apocalyptic times, even if this means sounding apocalyptic. You have to decide if bird cries are cries of ecstasy or cries of despair, by which you will know if you are a tragic or a lyric poet. Conceive of love beyond sex. Be subversive, constantly questioning reality and the status quo. Strive to change the world in such a way that there’s no further need to be a dissident. Read between the lives, and write between the lines. Be committed to something outside yourself. Be passionate about it. But don’t destroy the world, unless you have something better to replace it.

If you would snatch fame from the flames, where is your burning bow, where are your arrows of desire, where your wit on fire?

The master class starts wars. The lower classes fight it. Governments lie. The voice of the government is often not the voice of the people.

Speak up, act out! Silence is complicity. Be the gadfly of the state and also its firefly. And if you have two loaves of bread, do as the Greeks did: sell one with the coin of the realm, and with the coin of the realm buy sunflowers.

Wake up! The world’s on fire!

Have a nice day!

Poetry as Insurgent Art, New Directions, 2007.


Obituaries: Counter PunchDaily Beastthe GuardianNew York Times (video), San Francisco Chronicle. Interview with Democracy Now.


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