Monday, December 1, 2014

TC: Allen Ginsberg: A Supermarket in California




http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/4/49/Fredmeyer_edit_1.jpg/1024px-Fredmeyer_edit_1.jpg

Supermarket packaged food aisles, the new Fred Meyer on Interstate on Lombard, Portland: photo by Lyzadanger, 2004


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 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 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, 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
 
 
 

99 Cent: photo by Andreas Gursky, 1999 (Sprüth Magers, Berlin/London)

Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997): A Supermarket in California, from Howl and Other Poems, 1956

3 comments:

Wooden Boy said...

It's astonishing: the contrast between the brash homogeneity of those overburdened shelves, a limited palette of colours, and the lush and verdant world of Ginsberg's poem, everything painted with desire.

TC said...

For someone arriving from the interior of the land California presented several powerful shocks in the 1950s. Freeways and supermarkets at the head of the list.

I love Allen as social critic and humorist. The small sting in the tail of this brilliant line is a clever covert reference to the popular capitalist board game Monopoly:

"We strode down the open corridors together in our solitary fancy tasting artichokes, possessing every frozen delicacy, and never passing the cashier."

There's a tape of Allen the Younger reading the poem. He passes it off as an occasional piece, writ, he confesses, in the wake of the "great poetry" he'd been writing just prior.

"Post coitum triste," he jokes.

The YouTube commenters don't quite get it.

"Post coital treason," tentatively suggests one.

"Post coital tryst," a second commenter more confidently suggests.

At any rate, curiously enough, I think Allen the Messiah ages less well as poet than the funny observant Allen we read here.

AG reads A Supermarket in California, 25 October 1956

VANITAS said...

It's a beautiful poem. Just the right balance of melancholy, humor, daily information, common speech, and metaphysical yearing. Been reading Barry Miles' bio, and recently saw 'Kill Your Darlings' pic. That group will stay, Allen definitely one of the seminal figures. To me, it's the gentleness, the humanity, that is his poems' most endearing quality. Thanks, Tom, for reminding us.