I was thinking of you tonight, Allen Ginsberg, as I walked down Polk Street,
laid now bare by AIDS and indifference, walked under a fog-shrouded
moon, thinking of you and Kerouac and hipster Zen haiku.
In my hungry fatigue, I wandered into Safeway, that luminous
cornucopia, open 24-7 and gleaming in supernatural ecstasy, the pursuit
of bread and cheese at midnight enshrined in the Declaration.
What perfect fruit! What perfect red meat! Amber-lit aisles of
genetically modified cereal grains dosed with sugar! All America is shopping
tonight, three carts over-flowing and don’t forget the latest National Enquirer!
Is this America, this endless consumption? America still has its
nuclear bombs, so what the fuck, and what the fuck has changed–and you,
Bill Burroughs, junkie-queer, when did you fly in and what were you doing,
lingering in the produce aisle, sniffing peaches, squeezing the tomatoes?
I saw you, Allen Ginsberg, lonely and childless, grubbing among
the cleaning products, the bleach and the Pine Sol, mumbling, wondering
when America will finally come clean, and like Walt, eyeing the grocery
I heard the questions you asked America: Why are the graves full
of tears? Where are the angels of our better nature? Why are you naked?
I followed you though this labyrinth, secure in the certainty that you
had strung the string that would lead the way out.
We dragged ourselves through these canyons of splendor, fingering every
Made in China delight two dollars and twenty-seven cents, and never finding
that angry fix.
Where are we going, Allen Ginsberg? The parking lot is chained and
anyway, it seems I have lost my car. Can you divine where I left it?
(I clutch your book and dream of our sojourn in California. Eureka!
Where has it gone?)
Are we lonely enough to dance together down the dark, negro streets
toward the false hope of dawn? There is no sun, no shade, and the twilight’s
last gleaming is shrouded in fog.
Shall we cross the bridges to the new America, past the rusting shells
of blue automobiles and vacant strip malls, to our cinderblock motel?
Ah, dear friend, monkish iconoclast, where is the revolution? Did it die
in Vietnam with the 58,000? Where can America go now that Charon’s outboard
has no gas? When it comes time to depart this smoking ruin, shall we swim
in the black waters of the Lethe?
29 August 2011
After Allen Ginsberg’s “A Supermarket in California” with references from his poems “Howl” and “America,” all of which can be found in Howl and Other Poems (1956).
“A Supermarket in San Francisco,” was first published on the Dead Beats Literary Blog on 13 September 2012.