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Allen Ginsberg: A Tribute

To celebrate the life and poetic contributions of Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997) we’ve compiled the following collection of photographs, essays, an exclusive video, and poems, including an audio version of the poet reading from "Howl."

poem

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, García 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 a 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

Allen Ginsberg
1984
poem

Kaddish, Part I

For Naomi Ginsberg, 1894-1956

Strange now to think of you, gone without corsets & eyes, while I walk on
   the sunny pavement of Greenwich Village.
downtown Manhattan, clear winter noon, and I've been up all night, talking,
   talking, reading the Kaddish aloud, listening to Ray Charles blues
   shout blind on the phonograph
the rhythm the rhythm—and your memory in my head three years after—
   And read Adonais' last triumphant stanzas aloud—wept, realizing
   how we suffer—
And how Death is that remedy all singers dream of, sing, remember,
   prophesy as in the Hebrew Anthem, or the Buddhist Book of An-
   swers—and my own imagination of a withered leaf—at dawn—
Dreaming back thru life, Your time—and mine accelerating toward Apoca-
   lypse,
the final moment—the flower burning in the Day—and what comes after, 
looking back on the mind itself that saw an American city
a flash away, and the great dream of Me or China, or you and a phantom
   Russia, or a crumpled bed that never existed—
like a poem in the dark—escaped back to Oblivion—
No more to say, and nothing to weep for but the Beings in the Dream,
   trapped in its disappearance,
sighing, screaming with it, buying and selling pieces of phantom, worship-
   ping each other,
worshipping the God included in it all—longing or inevitability?—while it
   lasts, a Vision—anything more?
It leaps about me, as I go out and walk the street, look back over my shoulder,
   Seventh Avenue, the battlements of window office buildings shoul-
   dering each other high, under a cloud, tall as the sky an instant—and
   the sky above—an old blue place.
or down the Avenue to the south, to—as I walk toward the Lower East Side
   —where you walked 50 years ago, little girl—from Russia, eating the
   first poisonous tomatoes of America frightened on the dock 
then struggling in the crowds of Orchard Street toward what?—toward
   Newark—
toward candy store, first home-made sodas of the century, hand-churned ice 
   cream in backroom on musty brownfloor boards—
Toward education marriage nervous breakdown, operation, teaching school,
   and learning to be mad, in a dream—what is this life?
Toward the Key in the window—and the great Key lays its head of light
   on top of Manhattan, and over the floor, and lays down on the
   sidewalk—in a single vast beam, moving, as I walk down First toward
   the Yiddish Theater—and the place of poverty
you knew, and I know, but without caring now—Strange to have moved
   thru Paterson, and the West, and Europe and here again,
with the cries of Spaniards now in the doorstops doors and dark boys on
   the street, fire escapes old as you
—Tho you're not old now, that's left here with me—
Myself, anyhow, maybe as old as the universe—and I guess that dies with
   us—enough to cancel all that comes--What came is gone forever
   every time—
That's good!  That leaves it open for no regret—no fear radiators, lacklove,
   torture even toothache in the end—
Though while it comes it is a lion that eats the soul—and the lamb, the soul,
   in us, alas, offering itself in sacrifice to change's fierce hunger--hair 
   and teeth—and the roar of bonepain, skull bare, break rib, rot-skin,
   braintricked Implacability.
Ai! ai!  we do worse! We are in a fix!  And you're out, Death let you out,
   Death had the Mercy, you're done with your century, done with 
   God, done with the path thru it—Done with yourself at last—Pure
   —Back to the Babe dark before your Father, before us all—before the
   world—
There, rest.  No more suffering for you.  I know where you've gone, it's good.
No more flowers in the summer fields of New York, no joy now, no more 
   fear of Louis,
and no more of his sweetness and glasses, his high school decades, debts,
   loves, frightened telephone calls, conception beds, relatives, hands—
No more of sister Elanor,—she gone before you—we kept it secret you
   killed her--or she killed herself to bear with you—an arthritic heart
   —But Death's killed you both—No matter—
Nor your memory of your mother, 1915 tears in silent movies weeks and
   weeks—forgetting, agrieve watching Marie Dressler address human-
   ity, Chaplin dance in youth,
or Boris Godunov, Chaliapin's at the Met, halling his voice of a weeping Czar
   —by standing room with Elanor & Max—watching also the Capital 
   ists take seats in Orchestra, white furs, diamonds,
with the YPSL's hitch-hiking thru Pennsylvania, in black baggy gym skirts
   pants, photograph of 4 girls holding each other round the waste, and
   laughing eye, too coy, virginal solitude of 1920
all girls grown old, or dead now, and that long hair in the grave—lucky to
   have husbands later—
You made it—I came too—Eugene my brother before (still grieving now and
   will gream on to his last stiff hand, as he goes thru his cancer—or kill
   —later perhaps—soon he will think—)
And it's the last moment I remember, which I see them all, thru myself, now
   --tho not you
I didn't foresee what you felt--what more hideous gape of bad mouth came 
   first--to you--and were you prepared?
To go where?  In that Dark--that--in that God? a radiance? A Lord in the 
   Void?  Like an eye in the black cloud in a dream?  Adonoi at last, with
   you?
Beyond my remembrance! Incapable to guess! Not merely the yellow skull
   in the grave, or a box of worm dust, and a stained ribbon—Deaths-
   head with Halo?  can you believe it?
Is it only the sun that shines once for the mind, only the flash of existence,
   than none ever was?
Nothing beyond what we have—what you had—that so pitiful—yet Tri-
   umph,
to have been here, and changed, like a tree, broken, or flower—fed to the 
   ground—but made, with its petals, colored, thinking Great Universe, 
   shaken, cut in the head, leaf stript, hid in an egg crate hospital, cloth
   wrapped, sore—freaked in the moon brain, Naughtless.
No flower like that flower, which knew itself in the garden, and fought the
   knife—lost
Cut down by an idiot Snowman's icy—even in the Spring—strange ghost 
   thought some—Death—Sharp icicle in his hand—crowned with old
   roses—a dog for his eyes—cock of a sweatshop—heart of electric
   irons.
All the accumulations of life, that wear us out—clocks, bodies, consciousness,
   shoes, breasts—begotten sons—your Communism—'Paranoia' into
   hospitals.
You once kicked Elanor in the leg, she died of heart failure later.  You of 
   stroke.  Asleep?  within a year, the two of you, sisters in death.  Is
   Elanor happy?
Max grieves alive in an office on Lower Broadway, lone large mustache over
   midnight Accountings, not sure.  His life passes—as he sees—and
   what does he doubt now?  Still dream of making money, or that might 
   have made money, hired nurse, had children, found even your Im-
   mortality, Naomi?
I'll see him soon.  Now I've got to cut through to talk to you as I didn't
   when you had a mouth.
Forever.  And we're bound for that, Forever like Emily Dickinson's horses
   —headed to the End.
They know the way—These Steeds—run faster than we think—it's our own
   life they cross—and take with them.

   Magnificent, mourned no more, marred of heart, mind behind, mar-
ried dreamed, mortal changed—Ass and face done with murder.
   In the world, given, flower maddened, made no Utopia, shut under
pine, almed in Earth, blamed in Lone, Jehovah, accept.
   Nameless, One Faced, Forever beyond me, beginningless, endless,
Father in death.  Tho I am not there for this Prophecy, I am unmarried, I'm
hymnless, I'm Heavenless, headless in blisshood I would still adore
   Thee, Heaven, after Death, only One blessed in Nothingness, not
light or darkness, Dayless Eternity—
   Take this, this Psalm, from me, burst from my hand in a day, some
of my Time, now given to Nothing—to praise Thee—But Death
   This is the end, the redemption from Wilderness, way for the Won-
derer, House sought for All, black handkerchief washed clean by weeping
—page beyond Psalm—Last change of mine and Naomi—to God's perfect
Darkness--Death, stay thy phantoms!

II
   Over and over—refrain—of the Hospitals—still haven't written your
history—leave it abstract—a few images
   run thru the mind—like the saxophone chorus of houses and years—
remembrance of electrical shocks.
   By long nites as a child in Paterson apartment, watching over your
nervousness—you were fat—your next move—
   By that afternoon I stayed home from school to take care of you—
once and for all—when I vowed forever that once man disagreed with my
opinion of the cosmos, I was lost—
   By my later burden—vow to illuminate mankind—this is release of
particulars—(mad as you)—(sanity a trick of agreement)—
   But you stared out the window on the Broadway Church corner, and
spied a mystical assassin from Newark,
   So phoned the Doctor—'OK go way for a rest'—so I put on my coat
and walked you downstreet—On the way a grammarschool boy screamed,
unaccountably—'Where you goin Lady to Death'? I shuddered—
   and you covered your nose with motheaten fur collar, gas mask
against poison sneaked into downtown atmosphere, sprayed by Grandma—
   And was the driver of the cheesebox Public Service bus a member of 
the gang?  You shuddered at his face, I could hardly get you on—to New
York, very Times Square, to grab another Greyhound—
Allen Ginsberg
1984
poem

Howl, Parts I & II

For Carl Solomon

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness,
     starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking 
     for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly
     connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking 
     in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating 
     across the tops of cities contemplating jazz,
who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and saw
     Mohammedan angels staggering on tenement roofs 
     illuminated,
who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes
     hallucinating Arkansas and Blake-light tragedy among the 
     scholars of war,
who were expelled from the academies for crazy & publishing 
     obscene odes on the windows of the skull,
who cowered in unshaven rooms in underwear, burning their 
     money in wastebaskets and listening to the Terror through
     the wall,
who got busted in their pubic beards returning through Laredo 
     with a belt of marijuana for New York,
who ate fire in paint hotels or drank turpentine in Paradise 
     Alley, death, or purgatoried their torsos night after night
with dreams, with drugs, with waking nightmares, alcohol and
     cock and endless balls,
incomparable blind streets of shuddering cloud and lightning in 
     the mind leaping toward poles of Canada & Paterson, 
     illuminating all the motionless world of Time between,
Peyote solidities of halls, backyard green tree cemetery dawns,
     wine drunkenness over the rooftops, storefront boroughs of 
     teahead joyride neon blinking traffic light, sun and moon 
     and tree vibrations in the roaring winter dusks of Brooklyn, 
     ashcan rantings and kind king light of mind,
who chained themselves to subways for the endless ride from 
     Battery to holy Bronx on benzedrine until the noise of 
     wheels and children brought them down shuddering 
     mouth-wracked and battered bleak of brain all drained of 
     brilliance in the drear light of Zoo,
who sank all night in submarine light of Bickford's floated out 
     and sat through the stale beer afternoon in desolate 
     Fugazzi's, listening to the crack of doom on the hydrogen 
     jukebox, 
who talked continuously seventy hours from park to pad to bar to 
     Bellevue to museum to the Brooklyn Bridge,
a lost battalion of platonic conversationalists jumping down the 
     stoops off fire escapes off windowsills of Empire State out 
     of the moon,
yacketayakking screaming vomiting whispering facts and 
     memories and anecdotes and eyeball kicks and shocks of 
     hospitals and jails and wars,
whole intellects disgorged in total recall for seven days and 
     nights with brilliant eyes, meat for the Synagogue cast on 
     the pavement,
who vanished into nowhere Zen New Jersey leaving a trail of 
     ambiguous picture postcards of Atlantic City Hall,
suffering Eastern sweats and Tangerian bone-grindings and 
     migraines of China under junk-withdrawal in Newark's bleak 
     furnished room,
who wandered around and around at midnight in the railroad
     yard wondering where to go, and went, leaving no broken
     hearts,
who lit cigarettes in boxcars boxcars boxcars racketing
     through snow toward lonesome farms in grandfather night,
who studied Plotinus Poe St. John of the Cross telepathy and 
     bop kabbalah because the cosmos instinctively vibrated at
     their feet in Kansas, who loned it through the streets of
     Idaho seeking visionary indian angels who were visionary
     indian angels,
who thought they were only mad when Baltimore gleamed in
     supernatural ecstasy,
who jumped in limousines with the Chinaman of Oklahoma on
     the impulse of winter midnight streetlight smalltown rain,
who lounged hungry and lonesome through Houston seeking jazz
     or sex or soup, and followed the brilliant Spaniard to
     converse about America and Eternity, a hopeless task, and
     so took ship to Africa,
who disappeared into the volcanoes of Mexico leaving behind
     nothing but the shadow of dungarees and the lava and ash of
     poetry scattered in fireplace Chicago,
who reappeared on the West Coast investigating the FBI in
     beards and shorts with big pacifist eyes sexy in their dark
     skin passing out incomprehensible leaflets,
who burned cigarette holes in their arms protesting the
     narcotic tobacco haze of Capitalism,
who distributed Supercommunist pamphlets in Union Square
     weeping and undressing while the sirens of Los Alamos
     wailed them down, and wailed down Wall, and the Staten
     Island ferry also wailed,
who broke down crying in white gymnasiums naked and
     trembling before the machinery of other skeletons,
who bit detectives in the neck and shrieked with delight in
     policecars for committing no crime but their own wild
     cooking pederasty and intoxication,
who howled on their knees in the subway and were dragged off
     the roof waving genitals and manuscripts,
who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists,
     and screamed with joy,
who blew and were blown by those human seraphim, the sailors,
     caresses of Atlantic and Caribbean love,
who balled in the morning in the evenings in rosegardens and
     the grass of public parks and cemeteries scattering their
     semen freely to whomever come who may,
who hiccuped endlessly trying to giggle but wound up with a sob
     behind a partition in a Turkish Bath when the blond & naked
     angel came to pierce them with a sword,
who lost their loveboys to the three old shrews of fate the one  
     eyed shrew of the heterosexual dollar the one eyed shrew
     that winks out of the womb and the one eyed shrew that does
     nothing but sit on her ass and snip the intellectual golden
     threads of the craftsman's loom.
who copulated ecstatic and insatiate with a bottle of beer a
     sweetheart a package of cigarettes a candle and fell off the
     bed, and continued along the floor and down the hall and
     ended fainting on the wall with a vision of ultimate cunt
     and come eluding the last gyzym of consciousness,
who sweetened the snatches of a million girls trembling in the
     sunset, and were red eyed in the morning but prepared to
     sweeten the snatch of the sunrise, flashing buttocks under
     barns and naked in the lake,
who went out whoring through Colorado in myriad stolen
     night-cars, N.C., secret hero of these poems, cocksman and
     Adonis of Denver--joy to the memory of his innumerable lays
     of girls in empty lots & diner backyards, moviehouses'
     rickety rows, on mountaintops in caves or with gaunt
     waitresses in familiar roadside lonely petticoat upliftings
     & especially secret gas-station solipsisms of johns, &
     hometown alleys too,
who faded out in vast sordid movies, were shifted in dreams,
     woke on a sudden Manhattan, and picked themselves up out
     of basements hungover with heartless Tokay and horrors of
     Third Avenue iron dreams & stumbled to unemployment
     offices,
who walked all night with their shoes full of blood on the
     snowbank docks waiting for a door in the East River to open
     to a room full of steamheat and opium,
who created great suicidal dramas on the apartment cliff-banks of
     the Hudson under the wartime blue floodlight of the moon &
     their heads shall be crowned with laurel in oblivion,
who ate the lamb stew of the imagination or digested the crab at
     the muddy bottom of the rivers of Bowery,
who wept at the romance of the streets with their pushcarts full
     of onions and bad music,
who sat in boxes breathing in the darkness under the bridge, and
     rose up to build harpsichords in their lofts,

who coughed on the sixth floor of Harlem crowned with flame
     under the tubercular sky surrounded by orange crates of
     theology,
who scribbled all night rocking and rolling over lofty incantations
     which in the yellow morning were stanzas of gibberish,
who cooked rotten animals lung heart feet tail borsht & tortillas
     dreaming of the pure vegetable kingdom,
who plunged themselves under meat trucks looking for an egg,
who threw their watches off the roof to cast their ballot for
     Eternity outside of Time, & alarm clocks fell on their heads
     every day for the next decade,
who cut their wrists three times successively unsuccessfully, gave
     up and were forced to open antique stores where they thought
     they were growing old and cried,
who were burned alive in their innocent flannel suits on Madison
     Avenue amid blasts of leaden verse & the tanked-up clatter of
     the iron regiments of fashion & the nitroglycerine shrieks of
     the fairies of advertising & the mustard gas of sinister
     intelligent editors, or were run down by the drunken taxicabs
     of Absolute Reality,
who jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge this actually happened and
     walked away unknown and forgotten into the ghostly daze of
     Chinatown soup alleyways & firetrucks, not even one free
     beer,
who sang out of their windows in despair, fell out of the subway
     window, jumped in the filthy Passaic, leaped on negroes, cried
     all over the street, danced on broken wineglasses barefoot
     smashed phonograph records of nostalgic European 1930s
     German jazz finished the whiskey and threw up groaning into
     the bloody toilet, moans in their ears and the blast of
     colossal steamwhistles,
who barreled down the highways of the past journeying to the
     each other's hotrod-Golgotha jail-solitude watch or
     Birmingham jazz incarnation, who drove crosscountry
     seventytwo hours to find out if I had a vision or you had
     a vision or he had a vision to find out Eternity,
who journeyed to Denver, who died in Denver, who came back to
     Denver & waited in vain, who watched over Denver &
     brooded & loned in Denver and finally went away to find
     out the Time, & now Denver is lonesome for her heroes,
who fell on their knees in hopeless cathedrals praying for each
     other's salvation and light and breasts, until the soul
     illuminated its hair for a second, 
who crashed through their minds in jail waiting for impossible
     criminals with golden heads and the charm of reality in their
     hearts who sang sweet blues to Alcatraz,
who retired to Mexico to cultivate a habit, or Rocky Mount to
     tender Buddha or Tangiers to boys or Southern Pacific to the
     black locomotive or Harvard to Narcissus to Woodlawn to the
     daisychain or grave,
who demanded sanity trials accusing the radio of hypnotism &
     were left with their insanity & their hands & a hung jury,
who threw potato salad at CCNY lecturers on Dadaism and
     subsequently presented themselves on the granite steps of
     the madhouse with shaven heads and harlequin speech of
     suicide, demanding instantaneous lobotomy,
and who were given instead the concrete void of insulin Metrazol
     electricity hydrotherapy psychotherapy occupational therapy
     pingpong & amnesia,
who in humorless protest overturned only one symbolic pingpong
     table, resting briefly in catatonia,
returning years later truly bald except for a wig of blood, and
     tears and fingers, to the visible madman doom of the wards of
     the madtowns of the East,
Pilgrim State's Rockland's and Greystone's foetid halls, bickering
     with the echoes of the soul, rocking and rolling in the
     midnight solitude-bench dolmen-realms of love, dream of life
     a nightmare, bodies turned to stone as heavy as the moon,
with mother finally ******, and the last fantastic book flung out
     of the tenement window, and the last door closed at 4 a.m.
     and the last telephone slammed at the wall in reply and the
     last furnished room emptied down to the last piece of mental
     furniture, a yellow paper rose twisted on a wire hanger in the
     closet, and even that imaginary, nothing but a hopeful little
     bit of hallucination--
ah, Carl, while you are not safe I am not safe, and now you're
     really in the total animal soup of time--
and who therefore ran through the icy streets obsessed with a
     sudden flash of the alchemy of the use of the ellipse the
     catalog the meter & the vibrating plane,
who dreamt and made incarnate gaps in Time & Space through
     images juxtaposed, and trapped the archangel of the soul
     between 2 visual images and joined the elemental verbs and
     set the noun and dash of consciousness together jumping
     with sensation of Pater Omnipotens Aeterna Deus
to recreate the syntax and measure of poor human prose and
     stand before you speechless and intelligent and shaking
     with shame, rejected yet confessing out the soul to conform
     to the rhythm of thought in his naked and endless head,
the madman bum and angel beat in Time, unknown, yet putting
     down here what might be left to say in time come after
     death,
and rose reincarnate in the ghostly clothes of jazz in the goldhorn
     shadow of the band and blew the suffering of America's naked
     mind for love into an eli eli lamma lamma sabacthani
     saxophone cry that shivered the cities down to the last radio
with the absolute heart of the poem of life butchered out of their
     own bodies good to eat a thousand years.

 

II

What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open their skulls
     and ate up their brains and imagination?
Moloch! Solitude! Filth! Ugliness! Ashcans and unobtainable
     dollars! Children screaming under the stairways! Boys
     sobbing in armies!  Old men weeping in the parks!
Moloch! Moloch! Nightmare of Moloch! Moloch the loveless! 
     Mental Moloch! Moloch the heavy judger of men!
Moloch the incomprehensible prison! Moloch the crossbone
     soulless jailhouse and Congress of sorrows! Moloch
     whose buildings are judgment! Moloch the vast stone of
     war! Moloch the stunned governments!
Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is
     running money! Moloch whose fingers are ten armies! 
     Moloch whose breast is a cannibal dynamo!  Moloch whose
     ear is a smoking tomb!
Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows! Moloch whose
     skyscrapers stand in the long streets like endless
     Jehovahs! Moloch whose factories dream and croak in the
     fog! Moloch whose smokestacks and antennae crown the 
     cities!
Moloch whose love is endless oil and stone! Moloch whose soul is
     electricity and banks! Moloch whose poverty is the specter
     of genius! Moloch whose fate is a cloud of sexless
     hydrogen! Moloch whose name is the Mind!
Moloch in whom I sit lonely! Moloch in whom I dream Angels! 
     Crazy in Moloch! Cocksucker in Moloch! Lacklove and
     manless in Moloch!
Moloch who entered my soul early! Moloch in whom I am a
     consciousness without a body! Moloch who frightened me out
     of my natural ecstasy! Moloch whom I abandon! Wake up in
     Moloch! Light streaming out of the sky!
Moloch! Moloch! Robot apartments! invisible suburbs! skeleton
     treasuries! blind capitals! demonic industries! spectral
     nations! invincible mad houses granite cocks! monstrous
     bombs! 
They broke their backs lifting Moloch to Heaven! Pavements,
     trees, radios, tons! lifting the city to Heaven which exists
     and is everywhere about us! 
Visions! omens! hallucinations! miracles! ecstasies! gone down the
     American river! 
Dreams! adorations! illuminations! religions! the whole boatload
     of sensitive bullshit! 
Breakthroughs! over the river! flips and crucifixions! gone down
     the flood! Highs! Epiphanies! Despairs! Ten years' animal
     screams and suicides! Minds! New loves! Mad generation! 
     down on the rocks of Time!
Real holy laughter in the river! They saw it all! the wild eyes! the
     holy yells! They bade farewell! They jumped off the roof to
     solitude! waving! carrying flowers! Down to the river! into the
     street!
Allen Ginsberg
1984