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 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

 

Sunflower Sutra
I walked on the banks of the tincan banana dock and sat down under the huge shade of a Southern Pacific locomotive to look at the sunset over the box house hills and cry. 
Jack Kerouac sat beside me on a busted rusty iron pole, companion, we thought the same thoughts of the soul, bleak and blue and sad-eyed, surrounded by the gnarled steel roots of trees of machinery. 
The oily water on the river mirrored by the red sky, sun sank on top of final Frisco peaks, no fish in that stream, no hermit in those mounts, just ourselves rheumy-eyed and hungover like old bums on the riverbank, tired and wily. 
Look at the Sunflower, he said, there was a dead gray shadow against the sky, big as a man, sitting dry on top of a pile of ancient sawdust — 
— I rushed up enchanted — it was my first sunflower, memories of Blake — my visions — Harlem 
and Hells of the Eastern river, bridges clanking, Joes Greasy Sandwiches, dead baby carriages, black treadless tires forgotten and unretreaded, the poem of the riverbank, condoms & pots, steel knives, nothing stainless, only the dank muck and the razor sharp artifacts passing into the past —
and the gray Sunflower poised against the sunset, crackly bleak and dusty with the smut and smog and smoke of olden locomotives in its eye —
corolla of bleary spikes pushed down and broken like a battered crown, seeds fallen out of its face, soon-to-be-toothless mouth of sunny air, sunrays obliterated on its hairy head like a dried wire spiderweb, 
leaves stuck out like arms out of the stem, gestures from the sawdust root, broke pieces of plaster fallen out of the black twigs, a dead fly in its ear, 
Unholy battered old thing you were, my sunflower O my soul, I loved you then! 
The grime was no man’s grime but death and human locomotives, 
all that dress of dust, that veil of darkened railroad skin, that smog of cheek, that eyelid of black mis’ry, that sooty hand or phallus or protuberance of artificial worse-than-dirt — industrial — modern — all that civilization spotting your crazy golden crown —
and those blear thoughts of death and dusty loveless eyes and ends and withered roots: below, in the home-pile of sand and sawdust, rubber dollar bills, skin of machinery, the guts and innards of the weeping coughing car, the empty lonely tincans with their rusty tongues alack, what more could I name, the smoked ashes of some cock cigar, the cunts of wheelbarrows and the milky breasts of cars, wornout asses out of chairs & sphincters of dynamos — all these 
entangled in your mummied roots — and you there standing before me in the sunset, all your glory in your form! 
A perfect beauty of a sunflower! a perfect excellent lovely sunflower existence! a sweet natural eye to the new hip moon, woke up alive and excited grasping in the sunset shadow sunrise golden monthly breeze! 
How many flies buzzed round you innocent of your grime, while you cursed the heavens of the railroad and your flower soul? 
Poor dead flower? when did you forget you were a flower? when did you look at your skin and decide you were an impotent dirty old locomotive? the ghost of a locomotive? the specter and shade of a once powerful mad American locomotive? 
You were never no locomotive, Sunflower, you were a sunflower! 
And you Locomotive, you are a locomotive, forget me not! 
So I grabbed up the skeleton thick sunflower and stuck it at my side like a scepter, 
and deliver my sermon to my soul, and Jack’s soul too, and anyone who’ll listen, 
— We’re not our skin of grime, we’re not our dread bleak dusty imageless locomotive, we’re all beautiful golden sunflowers inside, we’re blessed by our own seed & golden hairy naked accomplishment-bodies growing into mad black formal sunflowers in the sunset, spied on by our eyes under the shadow of the mad locomotive riverbank sunset Frisco hilly tincan evening sitdown vision. 
Ode To Failure
Many prophets have failed, their voices silent 
ghost-shouts in basements nobody heard dusty laughter in family attics 
nor glanced them on park benches weeping with relief under empty sky 
Walt Whitman viva’d local losers — courage to Fat Ladies in the Freak Show! nervous prisoners whose mustached lips dripped sweat on chow lines —
Mayakovsky cried, Then die! my verse, die like the workers’ rank & file fusilladed in Petersburg! 
Prospero burned his Power books & plummeted his magic wand to the bottom of dragon seas 
Alexander the Great failed to find more worlds to conquer! 
O Failure I chant your terrifying name, accept me your 54 year old Prophet 
epicking Eternal Flop! I join your Pantheon of mortal bards, & hasten this ode with high blood pressure 
rushing to the top of my skull as if I wouldn’t last another minute, like the Dying Gaul! to 
You, Lord of blind Monet, deaf Beethoven, armless Venus de Milo, headless Winged Victory!
I failed to sleep with every bearded rosy-cheeked boy I jacked off over 
My tirades destroyed no Intellectual Unions of KGB & CIA in turtlenecks & underpants, their woolen suits & tweeds 
I never dissolved Plutonium or dismantled the nuclear Bomb before my skull lost hair 
I have not yet stopped the Armies of entire Mankind in their march toward World War III 
I never got to Heaven, Nirvana, X, Whatchamacallit, I never left Earth, 
I never learned to die. 

March 7–October 10, 1980


© Copyright Allen Ginsberg