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Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Selected Poems

Sometimes During Eternity

Constantly Risking Absurdity

Wild Dreams of a New Beginning

Seascape With Sun and Eagle

A Vast Confusion

The Changing Light

To the Oracle at Delphi

Dog

From A Coney Island of the Mind
Section 20

From Pictures of the Gone World
Section 8

Allen Ginsberg Dying

 

Sometimes During Eternity

Sometimes during eternity
some guys show up
and one of them
who shows up real late
is a kind of carpenter
from square-type place
like Galilee
and he starts wailing
and claiming he is hip
to who made heaven
and earth
and that the cat
who really laid it on us
is his Dad
And moreover
he adds
It's all writ down
on some scroll-type parchments
which some henchmen
leave lying around the Dead Sea somewheres
a long time ago
and which you won't even find
for a coupla thousand years or so
or at least for
nineteen hundred and fortyseven
of them
to be exact
and even then
nobody really believes them
or me
for that matter
You're hot
they tell him
And they cool him
They stretch him on the Tree to cool
And everybody after that
is always making models
of his Tree
with Him hung up
and always crooning His name
and calling Him to come down
and sit in
on their combo
as if he is the king cat
who's got to blow
or they can't quite make it
Only he don't come down
from His Tree
Him just hang there
on His Tree
looking real Petered out
and real cool
and also
according to a roundup
of late world news
from the usual unreliable sources
real dead

 

Constantly Risking Absurdity

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 the day
performing entrachats
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

 

Wild Dreams of a New Beginning

There's a breathless hush on the freeway tonight
Beyond the ledges of concrete
restaurants fall into dreams
with candlelight couples
Lost Alexandria still burns
in a billion lightbulbs
Lives cross lives
idling at stoplights
Beyond the cloverleaf turnoffs
'Souls eat souls in the general emptiness'
A piano concerto comes out a kitchen window
A yogi speaks at Ojai
'It's all taking pace in one mind'
On the lawn among the trees
lovers are listening
for the master to tell them they are one
with the universe
Eyes smell flowers and become them
There's a deathless hush
on the freeway tonight
as a Pacific tidal wave a mile high
sweeps in
Los Angeles breathes its last gas
and sinks into the sea like the Titanic all lights lit
Nine minutes later Willa Cather's Nebraska
sinks with it
The sea comes over in Utah
Mormon tabernacles washed away like barnacles
Coyotes are confounded & swim nowhere
An orchestra onstage in Omaha
keeps on playing Handel's Water Music
Horns fill with water
ans bass players float away on their instruments
clutching them like lovers horizontal
Chicago's Loop becomes a rollercoaster
Skyscrapers filled like water glasses
Great Lakes mixed with Buddhist brine
Great Books watered down in Evanston
Milwaukee beer topped with sea foam
Beau Fleuve of Buffalo suddenly become salt
Manhatten Island swept clean in sixteen seconds
buried masts of Amsterdam arise
as the great wave sweeps on Eastward
to wash away over-age Camembert Europe
manhatta steaming in sea-vines
the washed land awakes again to wilderness
the only sound a vast thrumming of crickets
a cry of seabirds high over
in empty eternity
as the Hudson retakes its thickets
and Indians reclaim their canoes

 

Seascape With Sun and Eagle

Freer
than most birds
an eagle flies up
over San Francisco
freer than most places
soars high up
floats and glides high up
in the still
open spaces

flown from the mountains
floated down
far over ocean
where the sunset has begun
a mirror of itself

He sails high over
turning and turning
where seaplanes might turn
where warplanes might burn

He wheels about burning
in the red sun
climbs and glides
and doubles back upon himself
now over ocean
now over land
high over pinwheels suck in sand
where a rollercoaster used to stand

soaring eagle setting sun
All that is left of our wilderness

 

A Vast Confusion

Long long I lay in the sands

Sounds of trains in the surf
in subways of the sea
And an even greater undersound
of a vast confusion in the universe
a rumbling and a roaring
as of some enormous creature turning
under sea and earth
a billion sotto voices murmuring
a vast muttering
a swelling stuttering
in ocean's speakers
world's voice-box heard with ear to sand
a shocked echoing
a shocking shouting
of all life's voices lost in night
And the tape of it
someow running backwards now
through the Moog Synthesizer of time
Chaos unscrambled
back to the first
harmonies
And the first light

 

The Changing Light

The changing light
at San Francisco
is none of your East Coast light
none of your
pearly light of Paris
The light of San Francisco
is a sea light
an island light
And the light of fog
blanketing the hills
drifting in at night
through the Golden Gate
to lie on the city at dawn
And then the halcyon late mornings
after the fog burns off
and the sun paints white houses
with the sea light of Greece
with sharp clean shadows
making the town look like
it had just been painted

But the wind comes up at four o'clock
sweeping the hills

And then the veil of light of early evening

And then another scrim
when the new night fog
floats in
And in that vale of light
the city drifts
anchorless upon the ocean

From How to Paint Sunlight

 

To the Oracle at Delphi

Great Oracle, why are you staring at me,
do I baffle you, do I make you despair?
I, Americus, the American,
wrought from the dark in my mother long ago,
from the dark of ancient Europa--
Why are you staring at me now
in the dusk of our civilization--
Why are you staring at me
as if I were America itself
the new Empire
vaster than any in ancient days
with its electronic highways
carrying its corporate monoculture
around the world
And English the Latin of our days--

Great Oracle, sleeping through the centuries,
Awaken now at last
And tell us how to save us from ourselves
and how to survive our own rulers
who would make a plutocracy of our democracy
in the Great Divide
between the rich and the poor
in whom Walt Whitman heard America singing

O long-silent Sybil,
you of the winged dreams,
Speak out from your temple of light
as the serious constellations
with Greek names
still stare down on us
as a lighthouse moves its megaphone
over the sea
Speak out and shine upon us
the sea-light of Greece
the diamond light of Greece

Far-seeing Sybil, forever hidden,
Come out of your cave at last
And speak to us in the poet's voice
the voice of the fourth person singular
the voice of the inscrutable future
the voice of the people mixed
with a wild soft laughter--
And give us new dreams to dream,
Give us new myths to live by!

Read at Delphi, Greece, on March 21, 2001 at the UNESCO World Poetry Day
Reprinted from San Francisco Poems

 

Dog

The dog trots freely in the street
and sees reality
and the things he sees
are bigger than himself
and the things he sees
are his reality
Drunks in doorways
Moons on trees
The dog trots freely thru the street
and the things he sees
are smaller than himself
Fish on newsprint
Ants in holes
Chickens in Chinatown windows
their heads a block away
The dog trots freely in the street
and the things he smells
smell something like himself
The dog trots freely in the street
past puddles and babies
cats and cigars
poolrooms and policemen
He doesn't hate cops
He merely has no use for them
and he goes past them
and past the dead cows hung up whole
in front of the San Francisco Meat Market
He would rather eat a tender cow
than a tough policeman
though either might do
And he goes past the Romeo Ravioli Factory
and past Coit's Tower
and past Congressman Doyle of the Unamerican Committee
He's afraid of Coit's Tower
but he's not afraid of Congressman Doyle
although what he hears is very discouraging
very depressing
very absurd
to a sad young dog like himself
to a serious dog like himself
But he has his own free world to live in
His own fleas to eat
He will not be muzzled
Congressman Doyle is just another
fire hydrant
to him
The dog trots freely in the street
and has his own dog's life to live
and to think about
and to reflect upon
touching and tasting and testing everything
investigating everything
without benefit of perjury
a real realist
with a real tale to tell
and a real tail to tell it with
a real live
barking
democratic dog
engaged in real
free enterprise
with something to say
about ontology
something to say
about reality
and how to see it
and how to hear it
with his head cocked sideways
at streetcorners
as if he is just about to have
his picture taken
for Victor Records
listening for
His Master's Voice
and looking
like a living questionmark
into the
great gramophone
of puzzling existence
with its wondrous hollow horn
which always seems
just about to spout forth
some Victorious answer
to everything

 

From A Coney Island of the Mind
Section 20

The pennycandystore beyond the El
is where I first
fell in love
with unreality
Jellybeans glowed in the semi-gloom
of that september afternoon
A cat upon the counter moved among
the licorice sticks
and tootsie rolls
and Oh Boy Gum

Outside the leaves were falling as they died

A wind had blown away the sun

A girl ran in
Her hair was rainy
Her breasts were breathless in the little room

Outside the leaves were falling
and they cried
Too soon! too soon!

 

From Pictures of the Gone World
Section 8


It was a face which darkness could kill
in an instant
a face as easily hurt
by laughter or light

'We think differently at night'
she told me once
lying back languidly

And she would quote Cocteau

'I feel there is an angel in me' she'd say
'whom I am constantly shocking'

Then she would smile and look away
light a cigarette for me
sigh and rise

and stretch
her sweet anatomy

let fall a stocking

 

Allen Ginsberg Dying
Written on Tuesday, April 8, 1997

Allen Ginsberg is dying
It's on all the papers
It's in the evening news
A great poet is dying
But his voice won't die
His voice is on the land
In Lower Manhattan
in his own bed
he is dying
There is nothing to do about it
He is dying the death that everyone dies
He is dying the death of the poet
He has a telephone in his hand
and he calls everyone
from his bed
in Lower Manhattan
All around the world late at night the telephone is ringing
"This is Allen" the voice says
"Allen Ginsberg calling"
How many times have they heard it over the long great years
He doesn't have to say Ginsberg
All around the world in the world of poets
there is only one Allen
"I wanted to tell you" he says
He tells them what's happening
what's coming down on him
His voice goes by satellite over the land
over the Sea of Japan
where he once stood naked
trident in hand
like a young Neptune
a young man with black beard
standing on a stone beach
It is high tide and the seabirds cry
The Waves break over him now
and the seabirds cry
on the San Francisco waterfront
There is a high wind
There are great whitecaps lashing the Embarcadero
I am reading Greek poetry
Horses weep in it
The horses of Achilles weep in it
here by the sea
in San Francisco
where the waves weep
They make a sibilant sound
a sibylline sound
Allen
they whisper

Allen