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Copyright © 2005 Lawrence Ferlinghetti
All right reserved.
To summarize the past by theft and allusion with a parasong a palimpsest a manuscreed writ over a graph of consciousness at best a consciousness of 'felt life' A rushing together of the raisins of wrath of living and dying the laughter and forgetting The maze and amaze of life
Sound of the eternal dialogue echoing through the centuries of all the voices that ever sang or wrote (bearers of our consciousness) And the flux of history interrupted by catastrophes Flowers blooming out of season Sound of weeping beyond reason A pianist playing in the ruins of Prague A London fog A cow a clod at a country crossing Dark dawn and a rooster's cry ki-ki-ri-ki! A light that ever was on land and sea and tea at Rumplemeyer's in the Rue Rivoli The labyrinth on the floor of Chartres Cathedral and a Warsaw concerto heard distantly on a Detroit mall full of gumball goombahs on rollerskates Cry of a black singer in a beat-up Harlem bar A bat hitting a ball in the first game of a new season Laughter in a eucalyptus forest in a smiling summer dream and fool's gold gleaming in a California stream
All the images of the splendid life of the world down the rivers of windfall light A trilliontrillion images kaleidoscopic in a psychedelic tropic (later boiled down to a seminar topic) A song resung by a bird flown over to another zone another climate
Primate mutated in many colors Wrought from the dark in his mother long ago from the dark of ancient Europa Euro man and Euro woman in the hold of a listing freighter with Americus in the womb born by the Hudson and Grant's Tomb
And he did suffer a sea change (suffered and did not suffer) to spring forth upon a new place a kind of Atlantis lost and found (athwart a passage to India) A kind of two-legged creature An embryonic creation half-liberated spirit blithe and tempest-tossed An unknowing quantity that could grow into almost anything in the great unknown Some kind of new woman or man dreamed up in our great smelting pot petri dish of creation A small-scale exhibition of what mankind could possibly be-
"Demon or bird! (said the boy's soul)" Hero or antihero Man of pure action or Underground Man Man of "heightened consciousness" or psychedelic mystic Slave master or utopian dreamer Bowery bohunk or blessed redeemer Sister of Mercy or serial killer Poet or panderer on the lamb Keystone Kop or Chaplin's little man or Bush League Presidencies in totalitarian plutocracies? O which will it be?
America the greatest experiment on earth with the greatest chance to create a higher human being A reconditioned anima or animus bandy-legged and gender-blended A cuss upon the cusp of civilization White mutt or mestizo at home on the two continents of America made of many cultures and calamities
Men Seeking Women Women Seeking Men Men Seeking Men Women Seeking Women Lover Seeking Lover in search of self or some other Self-made heroes or antiheroes Foolscape fool or far-out cat Have time, will travel- He the journeyman poet on the Open Road He Abe the railsplitter And Ahab the whaler And Sinbad the Sailor And Thoreau at Walden Pond And young Tom Paine And John Brown at Harper's Ferry And Lindbergh in an open car in a Fifth Avenue parade And Gentleman Gene Tunney and Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson And Gertrude Stein making Americans (in her own image) And Gatsby kissing Daisy on a sailboat in the Sound And Studs Lonigan and Studs Terkel And Thorstein Veblen (who drank the bitter drink all right) And Carl Sandburg and Vachel Lindsay beating on a barrel with the handle of a broom And young Thomas Wolfe (his green hero Eugene) riding across the dark land (ghost of Stephen Dedalus) alone on a train in the deep South And Ti-Jean Kerouac at Columbia dreaming of Mexico Under the Volcano And Tom and Huck and Jim on the great river late and soon-
He was an American He was an American boy He read the American Boy magazine and became a Boy Scout in the suburbs He thought he was Tom Sawyer catching crayfish in the Bronx River and imagining the Mississippi He had a baseball mitt and an American Flyer bike He delivered the Woman's Home Companion at five in the afternoon or the Herald Trib at five in the morning
It was long since he was a herdsman
So that-Beginning with Sunday at the beach or some other jubilatus of life on earth An antic vision of a beach somewhere Shoals of bodies lying side by side Strands of lovers braided together into love-knots besotted (or not knotted) One body one breathing human plasm One body rolls over and a thousand others flip revealing sandy faces breasts and crotches the nests and roots of humankind (so oft unkind) Castaways all! A lighthouse pulsing even at midday and at midnight sweeping in circles like time itself "Time the wisest of things for it finds out everything" Time the fourth dimension An arrow flying both ways through bent space The tick of time man-made And the sun sweeping in cycles over time zones lighting up far places and faces as memory does beyond sequential time as in dreams our memories are selective and surreal Images fled together in dream from all parts in time and space superimposed upon each other Dadaist collages flashed upon our mindscreen the World Trade Center's twin towers on the Champs Ilysies Aunt Rose's roses pinned upon a Pocahontas statue by Rodin Daddy's penis in Dante's hand as getting and spending we lay waste our trousers So with our memory pillaging the past to make the present dreaming through the centuries trading time for tenses as the candid-camera-eye-called-mind blesses and distresses humankind (the thinkpad making cowards of us all) The great gulls soaring over hearing the sea with hidden ears A holiday scene again A boardwalk again Atlantic City or Rockaway Houses of glass Houses of cards Cities thrown up Rosie rolls her garter up The sun shines down forever and forever Will the world ever end? Balancing a box of doughnuts on his head a cocky kid threads his way through the late election rally "Get yer cruellers!" he cries with vestigial German accent "This race makes a difference!" cries the Tammany Hall fat cat running for mayor (Sez who? Boss Tweed snorts) On the Elevated, back of the car a black woman thinks "It's dangerous to be born with breasts" Mother in the street, her brassiere backwards Life rolling on and memory a shuttle between past and present a shuttered train full of shattered mirrors Don't tell me, don't tell me What train I'm on So they can't find me ...
And Homer came looking like Odysseus drifting over oceans and tilled fields with brittle leaves that whispered as he came And he spoke up in alta voce in wild demonic demotic Greek quoth he with tongue halfway in cheek: "Walt Whitman your greatest soul speaker with his 'barbaric yawp' sounding for the first time free from the past the voice of the people of America at once joyous and tragic passionate and calm intimate as a lover And when you touched his book you touched himself And many were Whitman's wild children following after (singing- touching each other) and many the others who disclaimed him ... "Your era lit and littered with brave attempts at great epics like old Ezra's Cantos- canti that couldn't possibly be sung- in which he claimed to have brought us the great crystal ball (or Crystal Palace) The Cantos his Commedia a human comedy with little comedy (lacking the extra dimension of pure laughter) a dimmer tragedy than Dante's with a certain sublimity a certain grandeur and precious little light at the end of the tunnel whereas Dante's Paradiso "the place where all is light" a place that surely must exist in the farthest reaches of sky (as Heinrich Olbers later astronomized) "And self-exiled Ez baffled into silence while the thought of what America would be like if the Cantos had a wider circulation troubled his sleep "And then Doc Williams' Paterson its life in its Falls in which he heard the plash and eddy the profane refrain of American speech as opposed to gabby British pub-talk as strained through the ears of Reverend Eliot or la langue ipuisie of French existentialists hung up between Being and Nothingness "And then Olson's surgent Maximus (a whale of a man was he dubbing himself Ishmael) talking to his sea-blown city O Gloucester and talking always to himself (with a certain incoherence) to tell "who obeys the figures of the present dance" A profoundly private mumbling for all its maxing-out 'in this foul country where human lives are so much trash' "And yet-and yet-" great rapper Homer went on- "Dare I say to you that poetry ain't what it used to be since there ain't no Ulysses around to carry tales Oh lend me your ears lend me your tears all you finger-poppin' daddies of poetry gifted with 'giftlessness' you poet's poets writing poetry about poetry you deconstructed language poets you far-out freaked-out cut-up poets you prestressed Concrete poets you pay-toilet poets groaning with graffiti you cunnilingual poets you A-train swingers who never swing on birches you eyeless unrealists you self-occuhing supersurrealists you Nuyorican slammers and gangsta rappers you bedroom visionaries and closet agitpropagators you Groucho Marxist poets and leisure class comrades (who sleep 'til noon and talk about the working-class proletariat) you poetry workshop poets you masters of the sawmill haiku in the boondock heart of America you lovers of suicided poets you den mothers of poetry you Zen brothers of poetry you hairy professors of poesie and all you poetry critics drinking the blood of the poet all you poetry police- "Take heed take heed all you who still should be the gadflies of the state Here is my burning answer to the ever-moldering question as to what poetry can be (which I being blind can see better than thou)-
Excerpted from Americus by Lawrence Ferlinghetti Copyright © 2005 by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Excerpted by permission.
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