(belated) Happy Birthday Mr. F

A couple of weeks ago marked the 101st birthday of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, poet, still active activist, resident of San Francisco and writer of my all-time favourite poem, ‘Two Scavengers in a Truck, Two Beautiful People in a Mercedes’ (see link below). In the 1950s, Mr. F. was co-founder of City Lights, America’s first ever paperback bookstore and every bit as iconic as the man himself. A champion of those who need champions, Ferlinghetti’s poetry is heartwarmning, honest and, most importantly, accessible. Anyone with a tenner to spend could do a lot worse than invest in his ‘Collected Poems’.

Why is ‘Two Scavengers…’ my favourite poem? It’s an idea of ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’ simplicity used to show very deep and complex issues in a way which engages, rather than preaches. Clever, or what?

Enjoy the poem.

Two Scavengers in a Truck
Two Beautiful People in a Mercedes

At the stoplight waiting for the light
nine a.m. downtown San Francisco
a bright yellow garbage truck
with two garbagemen in red plastic blazers
standing on the back stoop
one on each side hanging on
and looking down into
an elegant open Mercedes
with an elegant couple in it

The man
In a hip three-piece linen suit
with shoulder-length blond hair & sunglasses
The young blond woman so casually coifed
with a short skirt and colored stockings
on the way to his architect’s office

And the two scavengers up since four a.m.
grungy from their route
on the way home
The older of the two with grey iron hair
and hunched back
looking down like some
Gargoyle Quasimodo
And the younger of the two
also with sunglasses & long hair
about the same age as the Mercedes driver
And both scavengers gazing down
As from a great distance
At the cool couple
as if they were watching some odourless TV ad
in which everything is always possible

And the very red light for an instant
holding all four close together
as if anything at all were possible
Between them
Across that small gulf
in the high seas
of this democracy
(Lawrence Ferlinghetti)

Dachau, 1902

Dachau, 1902

 

At certain points

Of the day

There is no time

Only hues

Which confuse

The seasons

 

An artist

She drips

Paint, sex, society

Blues, greens

Six-pointed stars

 

A shepherd boy lamb

No puncture marks

No apple

Just seeds

 

The Midday owl

Shrieks

It knows

 

The canvas freshly painted

Is blank

 

 

 

 

First Letter Home From A Migrant Worker In Mumbai

photo of trash lot on shore
Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Pexels.com

Dear Mama and Papa,

 

Despite our differences

It has broken my heart to leave our village

To leave you so very, very far behind

 

This astonishing city holds many challenges

Yet, you may rest peacefully

I am happy, safe and well

 

I am writing to tell you of my first great accomplishment

Please excuse my lack of modesty

But I am absolutely sure

Almost sure

You will be beacons of pride

 

I have visited Chowpatty Beach

And stood shoulder to shoulder

Amongst the elite of Mumbai

On the most celebrated and prestigious

Rubbish dump in all of India

 

For a poor village boy

It is truly a sea of inspiration

No well, no river

But an ocean of plastic bottles

Stretching further than the eye can see

Farther than the mind can dream

 

I am so grateful for your sacrifices

Your lifetime of simple meals

Fruit, veggies, dhal, chapatis

To give me this opportunity

This golden wandering

Through potato chip packets

Ice cream wrappers

Even paper plates

 

This isn’t just trash

This is cash

And you know what?

I couldn’t resist removing my sandals

To feel Lakshmi’s love

Dusting my feet

 

 

 

And the sea

The sea harbours such indescribable smells

No outdated salt

Or bygone fish

But bouquets of industry, progress, exports

I’ve heard it said they’re channelled

In a pipeline from Malabar Hill

To serve as a reminder

Such beautiful pollution

Is attainable for us all

 

Mumbai couldn’t be what it is

Without Bollywood fantasy fiction

I have heard a most entertaining fable

About a mythical palace called Antilia

A palace of such treasures

It could not exist on this earth

I believe it serves as an inspiration

That no matter how great one wealth

There’s no harm in coveting more

 

Back in the real world

I am enclosing three hundred and twenty rupees

A small contribution

But Chowpatty has strengthened my resolve

To become more than you or I

Ever dreamed I could be

I am also enclosing half of a paper plate

I took as a souvenir

I was tempted to take two

But wish my successes

To be tempered with the humility

You have instilled in me

Please show it to my siblings and cousins

As the oldest, I need to be the strongest of role models

 

You have brought me up not to take without giving

So I dropped my bus ticket on the sand

May it serve as a symbol

I am a man of the modern worls

A capitalist, a Mumbaikar

 

Your loving son

 

 

 

Love In…

Today
At McDonalds

I saw…

A woman
With a face
Like the sludge
On her boots

A man spitting
Into a plastic cup

A man
Chastise his son
With the C word

A woman
Forgotten
By hope

A backside
That never sees home cooking

A couple
Of cracked statues

A guy talking into his phone
As if
He were alone

A woman
Forgotten

By everyone

Their kids all ate Happy Meals

Sweeping

The Sikhs’ magnificent Harmandir, or Golden Temple, is the centrepiece of the temple complex in the holy city of Amritsar. Tourists are welcome, and when i visited, I saw the following act of humility which on the surface looks small, but which is imbued with huge significance.

Auntie
Respected, Rich
Humbles herself

Auntie
Knowing what pride precedes
Hitches her sari above her feet

Auntie
A forward thinking lady
Descends the stairs

Slowly

Clears her mind
Cleans God’s house
For the pious
For the tourists
For the peasants who spend their lives
Swallowing dust

Not born to be a cleaner
She sweeps
Bare-handed
Right to left
Right to left
Gathering tiny piles
Of unholy dust

Each movement
Physically
A speck of dirt

Each movement
Spiritually
A broadstroke golden universe
Of love and hope

Sweeping
Unkind thoughts
Sweeping
Everyday sins
Sweeping
The one thing
No rug is big enough to cover

Outside
Sweet water reflects
Ten heavenly smiles
Nanak to Gobind

Inside
The eleventh
Pauses its reading
And bookmarks
The purity
Flowing in and out
Of four open doors

My Second City

My Second City

My second city
Is called the Second City
It’s very different from my first

From date palms
To packaged dates
From cows swishing flies
To a bronze bull
Girls in jeans

I wonder what that word means?

Safe new friends
A school with books
Free bus rides, with unfriendly looks
Skyscrapers
Sky-high prices
Everything’s sort of clean and neat
Just don’t even think of stepping out in bare feet

A sanctuary with a leaky roof
My shiny blue raincoat drips daily proof
My Second City gives me every little thing I need

Except love

When I think of my first city
I laugh and I laugh and I laugh
Until it hurts

In my Second City
Nothing waits
No-one waits
But we wait and wait and wait and wait
For permission to unpack ourselves and stay
I’m really sure I’d like to stay

Perhaps for a few more days