I am a documentary filmmaker who lives in Chicago. This first poem I am submitting “A Supermarket in California” was written by the American poet Allen Ginsberg (1926 -1997). Ginsberg had studied at Columbia University in New York under the poet and critic Mark Van Doren who was influential in bringing attention back to Walt Whitman. Ginsberg’s poem imagines the poet Whitman in the contemporary setting of a grocery store in Berkeley, California, where Ginsberg was then living.
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
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
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
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 (From Collected Poems 1947-1980 by Allen Ginsberg Harper & Row. Copyright © 1984 by Allen Ginsberg)
Animated film of AG “reading” this poem
Please note: Mark Frazel & I first met during “The Walt Whitman Show” – live streamed on Periscope. I am very grateful to Mark for his wonderful contributions to that (daily) show. Thank you very much Mark.