Autobiography

By Lawrence Ferlinghetti b. 1919 Lawrence Ferlinghetti
I am leading a quiet life   
in Mike’s Place every day   
watching the champs
of the Dante Billiard Parlor   
and the French pinball addicts.   
I am leading a quiet life   
on lower East Broadway.   
I am an American.
I was an American boy.
I read the American Boy Magazine   
and became a boy scout   
in the suburbs.
I thought I was Tom Sawyer   
catching crayfish in the Bronx River
and imagining the Mississippi.   
I had a baseball mit
and an American Flyer bike.
I delivered the Woman’s Home Companion   
at five in the afternoon
or the Herald Trib
at five in the morning.
I still can hear the paper thump   
on lost porches.
I had an unhappy childhood.   
I saw Lindbergh land.
I looked homeward
and saw no angel.
I got caught stealing pencils
from the Five and Ten Cent Store   
the same month I made Eagle Scout.
I chopped trees for the CCC   
and sat on them.
I landed in Normandy
in a rowboat that turned over.
I have seen the educated armies
on the beach at Dover.
I have seen Egyptian pilots in purple clouds   
shopkeepers rolling up their blinds   
at midday
potato salad and dandelions
at anarchist picnics.
I am reading ‘Lorna Doone’
and a life of John Most
terror of the industrialist
a bomb on his desk at all times.
I have seen the garbagemen parade   
in the Columbus Day Parade
behind the glib
farting trumpeters.
I have not been out to the Cloisters   
in a long time
nor to the Tuileries
but I still keep thinking
of going.
I have seen the garbagemen parade   
when it was snowing.
I have eaten hotdogs in ballparks.
I have heard the Gettysburg Address   
and the Ginsberg Address.
I like it here
and I won’t go back
where I came from.
I too have ridden boxcars boxcars boxcars.   
I have travelled among unknown men.   
I have been in Asia
with Noah in the Ark.
I was in India
when Rome was built.
I have been in the Manger
with an Ass.
I have seen the Eternal Distributor   
from a White Hill
in South San Francisco
and the Laughing Woman at Loona Park   
outside the Fun House
in a great rainstorm
still laughing.
I have heard the sound of revelry   
by night.
I have wandered lonely
as a crowd.
I am leading a quiet life
outside of Mike’s Place every day   
watching the world walk by
in its curious shoes.
I once started out
to walk around the world
but ended up in Brooklyn.
That Bridge was too much for me.   
I have engaged in silence
exile and cunning.
I flew too near the sun
and my wax wings fell off.
I am looking for my Old Man   
whom I never knew.
I am looking for the Lost Leader   
with whom I flew.
Young men should be explorers.   
Home is where one starts from.   
But Mother never told me
there’d be scenes like this.
Womb-weary
I rest
I have travelled.
I have seen goof city.
I have seen the mass mess.
I have heard Kid Ory cry.
I have heard a trombone preach.   
I have heard Debussy
strained thru a sheet.
I have slept in a hundred islands
where books were trees.   
I have heard the birds   
that sound like bells.
I have worn grey flannel trousers
and walked upon the beach of hell.
I have dwelt in a hundred cities
where trees were books.
What subways what taxis what cafes!
What women with blind breasts
limbs lost among skyscrapers!
I have seen the statues of heroes
at carrefours.
Danton weeping at a metro entrance
Columbus in Barcelona
pointing Westward up the Ramblas
toward the American Express   
Lincoln in his stony chair   
And a great Stone Face   
in North Dakota.
I know that Columbus   
did not invent America.
I have heard a hundred housebroken Ezra Pounds.   
They should all be freed.   
It is long since I was a herdsman.
I am leading a quiet life   
in Mike’s Place every day   
reading the Classified columns.
I have read the Reader’s Digest
from cover to cover
and noted the close identification
of the United States and the Promised Land
where every coin is marked   
In God We Trust
but the dollar bills do not have it
being gods unto themselves.   
I read the Want Ads daily   
looking for a stone a leaf   
an unfound door.
I hear America singing
in the Yellow Pages.
One could never tell
the soul has its rages.
I read the papers every day   
and hear humanity amiss
in the sad plethora of print.
I see where Walden Pond has been drained   
to make an amusement park.   
I see they’re making Melville   
eat his whale.
I see another war is coming   
but I won’t be there to fight it.   
I have read the writing
on the outhouse wall.
I helped Kilroy write it.
I marched up Fifth Avenue
blowing on a bugle in a tight platoon   
but hurried back to the Casbah   
looking for my dog.
I see a similarity
between dogs and me.
Dogs are the true observers   
walking up and down the world   
thru the Molloy country.
I have walked down alleys   
too narrow for Chryslers.
I have seen a hundred horseless milkwagons   
in a vacant lot in Astoria.
Ben Shahn never painted them   
but they’re there
askew in Astoria.
I have heard the junkman’s obbligato.   
I have ridden superhighways   
and believed the billboard’s promises   
Crossed the Jersey Flats
and seen the Cities of the Plain
And wallowed in the wilds of Westchester
with its roving bands of natives
in stationwagons.
I have seen them.
I am the man.   
I was there.   
I suffered
somewhat.
I am an American.
I have a passport.
I did not suffer in public.
And I’m too young to die.
I am a selfmade man.
And I have plans for the future.
I am in line   
for a top job.
I may be moving on
to Detroit.
I am only temporarily
a tie salesman.
I am a good Joe.
I am an open book
to my boss.
I am a complete mystery
to my closest friends.
I am leading a quiet life
in Mike’s Place every day   
contemplating my navel.
I am a part
of the body’s long madness.
I have wandered in various nightwoods.   
I have leaned in drunken doorways.
I have written wild stories
without punctuation.
I am the man.
I was there.   
I suffered   
somewhat.
I have sat in an uneasy chair.
I am a tear of the sun.   
I am a hill
where poets run.
I invented the alphabet
after watching the flight of cranes   
who made letters with their legs.
I am a lake upon a plain.   
I am a word
in a tree.
I am a hill of poetry.   
I am a raid
on the inarticulate.
I have dreamt
that all my teeth fell out   
but my tongue lived   
to tell the tale.
For I am a still
of poetry.
I am a bank of song.   
I am a playerpiano
in an abandoned casino   
on a seaside esplanade   
in a dense fog
still playing.
I see a similarity
between the Laughing Woman
and myself.
I have heard the sound of summer   
in the rain.
I have seen girls on boardwalks   
have complicated sensations.   
I understand their hesitations.
I am a gatherer of fruit.   
I have seen how kisses   
cause euphoria.
I have risked enchantment.   
I have seen the Virgin   
in an appletree at Chartres
And Saint Joan burn
at the Bella Union.
I have seen giraffes in junglejims
their necks like love
wound around the iron circumstances   
of the world.
I have seen the Venus Aphrodite   
armless in her drafty corridor.   
I have heard a siren sing   
at One Fifth Avenue.
I have seen the White Goddess dancing   
in the Rue des Beaux Arts   
on the Fourteenth of July   
and the Beautiful Dame Without Mercy   
picking her nose in Chumley’s.   
She did not speak English.   
She had yellow hair
and a hoarse voice
I am leading a quiet life   
in Mike’s Place every day   
watching the pocket pool players   
making the minestrone scene   
wolfing the macaronis   
and I have read somewhere   
the Meaning of Existence   
yet have forgotten
just exactly where.
But I am the man
And I’ll be there.
And I may cause the lips   
of those who are asleep   
to speak.
And I may make my notebooks   
into sheaves of grass.   
And I may write my own   
eponymous epitaph
instructing the horsemen   
to pass.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, “Autobiography” from A Coney Island of the Mind. Copyright © 1958 by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Reprinted with the permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation, www.wwnorton.com/nd/welcome.htm.

Source: These Are My Rivers: New and Selected Poems (New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1993)

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Poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti b. 1919

POET’S REGION U.S., Western

SCHOOL / PERIOD Beat

Subjects History & Politics, Social Commentaries, Youth, Life Choices, Travels & Journeys, War & Conflict, Jobs & Working, Living, Activities

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Lawrence  Ferlinghetti

Biography

As poet, playwright, publisher, and activist, Lawrence Ferlinghetti helped to spark the San Francisco literary renaissance of the 1950s and the subsequent “Beat” movement. Like the Beats, Ferlinghetti felt strongly that art should be accessible to all people, not just a handful of highly educated intellectuals. His career has been marked by its constant challenge of the status quo; his poetry engages readers, defies popular . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT History & Politics, Social Commentaries, Youth, Life Choices, Travels & Journeys, War & Conflict, Jobs & Working, Living, Activities

POET’S REGION U.S., Western

SCHOOL / PERIOD Beat

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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