Image: detail from cover of San Francisco Poems by Lawrence Ferlinghetti (City Lights Foundation, 2003)
Poetry is the shadow cast by our streetlight imaginations. - Lawrence Ferlinghetti
What happens to time on the mind’s Coney Island? It’s sixty years since the first trip I hitched in your boxcar from the Acol Road rented room where Luke and I played our EP of Logue and the Kinsey Quartet riffing versions of Pablo Neruda to the twenty-nine shadows of Brooklyn amusement rides your streetlight imagination cast through uncurtained windows on our delighted souls. O it was a spring of fur leaves and cobalt flowers and my apprentice heart beat faster than in our fierce games of Chaucerball when your words rose from the page with their magic to haunt us, and I heard them dance wild and free from the chains of a left margin. You wrote about walking the wire of the circus tent, where Beauty, all sparkles, shone in the spotlight ready to leap; twenty-nine times (at least twenty-nine times) you’d caught her and held her fast. Swabbing Mme Lagnado’s floors for six shillings an hour I dreamed of your Coney Island. Balayez! Balayez! she would cry as I reeled on her Carousel five minutes past going time. Cut sixty years, to your passing four days ago, aged more than 100. I’ve long since left Acol Road. The lights in my city throw shadows on pavements, front gardens, the white sheet of this page. The shadows I cast are fewer and scarcely as haunting as yours but today I’m on Brighton Beach with J. Alfred Prufrock’s ghost. Barefoot in flannel trousers we’re here to bear witness, spit peach stones onto the sand and watch the black freighter crewed by the thronging spirits your courage gave substance to glide by en route to posterity. The Liebestod music wells up and the white-and-blue awnings of windbreak and snack booth smack their struts in applause. At the masthead, your light gleams.
26 February 2021
Fourth Person Singular
- a tribute to Lawrence Ferlinghetti
The thought of checking out just late enough to see Trump chucked out of the White House must have gladdened your final year. Your question, Who stole America? never needed asking more than now when bigotry’s staged a massive comeback and poetry’s missed too many dates with truth. You never had much truck with wiggy nihilism nor those whose only activism was to flush a protesting toilet and run. Edgar Hoover’s verdict on you (a beatnik rabble-rouser who may also be a mental case) was the best calling card you could have wanted. Prévert and Rexroth helped you see how rage could be more lethal served with laughter; but rage it always was, as when your words cut clear across a packed town hall in 1963 to me, your rollneck sweater and sober suit declaring and down-playing how the many might speak in a single, singular voice, to say Only the dead are disengaged.