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Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Allen Ginsberg: A Supermarket in California


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)


Nin Andrews said...

The mega-stores, mega-food and food-like thingy stores . . .
make me think we really are already being taken over by aliens. The aliens live in there and feed off of our desires which then cause the items in the stores multiply when we aren't looking . . .
More and more and more . . .



"dreaming of your enumerations!"


light coming into sky above still black
ridge, jet passing over shadowed branch
in foreground, sound of wave in channel

themselves, just as in what
is determined by this

to be this, that one, could
one look at something

grey white fog against invisible ridge,
shadowed green pine on tip of sandspit

TC said...


Well, for a lover of paratactic inventorying, where better to dream of enumerations?


"Studies have shown" that's exactly what has happened. They invaded and took over our bodies long ago.

In late 1955, on that rainy night in Berkeley, Allen was new to California -- the sudden supermarket alienation shock effect.

I remember feeling a similar mix of abjection and delirium upon my first visit to a California supermarket, in Santa Monica in 1951.

Never did recover, and can't go in those places even unto this day, without nearly passing out.

(Maybe it's the b.p. meds, but I don't think so.)

Fond memories of small neighborhood markets of long ago, human-sized places.

(The little rose-coloured cottage on Milvia where Allen composed that poem has long since been torn down and replaced by city subsidized condos.)

TC said...

A.G. reads the poem.

TC said...

Oops, sorry about that, the cottage was not rose-coloured (must have been my spectacles) but rose-covered.

Robb said...

I love this poem. I am not a big fan of Ginsberg but I read this in college and it was one of the first poems that ever really moved me unexplainably.


Robb said...


Anonymous said...

I do love hearing a poet read.

Hazen said...


Bigger, Faster
Higher, Harder
Louder, Longer

But how much longer?

TC said...


Know what you mean about "unexplainably," though as time goes along I'm tempted to begin to be able to explain it as a pre-Messianic quality. That is, the gift of not yet believing that your words are going to change the world. Which, naturally, gives them a better chance to do so.


Well, with this one, I think it helps.


Speaking in propria persona, I'd say about one minute.

(Maybe it's this intense windstorm that's going on at this moment; or maybe it's...)

Robb said...

"pre-Messianic" yes. That sounds correct. So does "lesseare."

EKSwitaj said...

I can't even stand to shop in full-sized supermarkets anymore. Too overwhelming. Sensory bombardment.

TC said...

Sensory bombardment, yes. The creation of disorientation and bewilderment: overarching marketing strategies. The whole supermarket spectacle is designed to strip you of intelligence and will and cause you to consume with a vigor only tangentially related to real need.