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An epic poem for Lawrence Ferlinghetti, 101

An epic poem by Motueka writer Cliff Fell in honour of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, one of the great founders of the Beat Generation, who recently turned 101.

101 Bows to Lawrence Ferlinghetti on the Occasion of His 101st Birthday    

Like one who writes the world into Heaven

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or published its vast howl out of Hell

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bow to Lawrence Ferlinghetti, for if there’s one there’ll always be a hundred more – or more – and each Ferlinghetti a new poem, a canto calling from the page – Buon’ giorno, ragazzi! – nel mezzo del cammin’ . . .

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as when you enter the second year of your second century, little boy, still in the midway of that pilgrim road, you become the poem itself, the noise of its many rivers breaking through the silence of the woods that break on us

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like the silence of a bow-wave breaking on the bow – to buffet up a wish-bone of water – or the bow that bends from the shoulders, or the bows of this fleet of little poems, splinters of a hundred and one ships each dipping over the waves – while seagulls wheel screeching

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overhead, singing to us of how we fall, have fallen into these plague days in which the darkness can take unto itself a beloved’s face, hair in a slant of snow across her brow, screen-love of shoulder glimpsed for a moment – for is it not now upon us and again on its wings flighted out of cold mountain caves – it’s batshit, it’s crazy! – and into the world, Lombardy from which you sprang, Europe, Asia – and out of Staten into New York and the states gone viral, the Americas, Africa, the world going viral, as if in the Isle of Manisfree none can be free of the lockdown neither here nor there

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beneath a flowing linden tree, flowers falling to bow to the avenues of gone Strasbourg, the boy still walking hand-in-hand with Emily

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as in the little woods and long-gone bridge across the Bronx river muddy with crayfish still you are the Robin Hood of the forest – still dreaming the rebel dream of deerskin and robbery, a traveller’s rich purse tucked beneath your belt like a charm or

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lever to lift from time time’s out of mind struggle – the revolution’s long game of giving back to the poor, and so your long street (the world) will bow to you, opening its heart, Larry, or why not a poem to say ‘I didn’t get much sleep last night thinking about your underwear’, and who knows the lacey dainties from which each poem springs

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or is sprung from the thin air trick of it, the acrobat (the poet) climbing (on rime) to turn into words the words that are

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broken vessels of a truth remade and formed into a legislation of love

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ancient in the making, given us by the living and

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lost, and here – one most lost of all – sweet piper Pan, patron of those who watch over sheep, Lord of Panic (as all surely know), but how so that Pandemicon is of his realm or not as they say there is nothing in it though who knows the value of nothing – only the poet in her backyard gazing at the fall of falling leaves or another spring forming in buds on the vine and flowers of dust sweetly shooting the breeze

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or gazing at the petals and leaves that fall upon the grave of Ungaretti, sweetly falling on Pavese, Saba, Compagna, Montale, Quasimodo, Primo Levi - and on all who went before, bow to you le canzone dell’Italia

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bowing backwards to one still living as a yogi bends into wheel-pose

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and bow to you the needlegrass, the long golden stalk in your hand as once you bowed on the hills of Big Sur and contemplated its revolution, the revolution like a wind

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lifting her out of the caulkless houses, bow the wet sheets bent around a woman near-naked at her washing line, muse of all to come

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or bow as in dancing the splits, Fayard and Harold Nicholas bow to Cab Calloway’s ‘Jumpin’ Jive’ in Stormy Weather, like storms in the sea-lanes

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burning you out on night-watch in the war, burned out in the deep fog falling on the Omaha beach-head, bowing your head

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as the burros of Bixby Canyon, Carlos and Rosa – the croon of their ancient mournful evensong that Kerouac heard echo across the grasses of Big Sur, as though Luxemburg and Castaneda, and the ragged airs of those two revolutions were taking root in you, taking root

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like the supplication of a word beyond even the light that bends and bows

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on the bleachers at Aquatic, between Black Point and Fisherman’s Wharf and the hobo I saw sleeping, full beard and lanky frame, a ragged overcoat – and wondered was it you in disguise, living the street life, but, no, only a hobo, that ‘only’ worn like a halo, a sainthood

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blessed upon him, beatific beat beatitude of the street, beat as Hunke and Kerouac knew as they drew the word from its coinage, drawing its camel through the eye of a needle – and so as he awoke, I watched the hobo pull from one ragged pocket

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an abracadabra of bread and ham, and what’s this I’m saying – a string of English sausages, half a loaf of rye, cookies, a peach, laying them all out on the bleacher beside him and last of all a small primus stove which he began to pump, this noble hobo ……………… and seeing me watching him

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Likkety-spit, he said, as if passing the time of day, and Likkety-spit, I greeted in return, even as I walked away, stepping brisk through the tourists queuing for chowder on Hyde Street pier (bow the tourists) and so

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on Columbus I bowed to how I love this land he did not discover

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breathing in the scent of olives flowering above the sidewalk, their branches taking their bow as I climb Russian Hill

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and here, as though with me now walking down the other side, Anna A in a pink Russian skirt, she’s coming to town with her Russian gang – Osip and Voznesenky,  Tarkovsky, Marina, Brodsky, Yunna Morits, and Bella with her bag of rain, all of them walking down into

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longshore love and revelry, flying the red and blacks of anarchy, they’re coming to read the rites at City Lights – of poesie – and to open the wall that is no door and take their bow

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or bow to you an orchestra of cranked-up wild minds, the wild music of fevered be-in strings and players naked beneath the trees, symphonies breaking open in a pixy-led melody, chorale of sidewalk paving stones and crumbling concrete, mash-up of 

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bebop wailing into the spontaneous only once for this world, muscled and flipped, the flail of arms jerking like it might be jazz, unruly improvised sweat of the clubland nights, frantic and broken open as Kerouac on his Big Sur bender, making this his bow to you

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and his bow to Amaryllis on the sidewalk, calling the Lord of Panic on her cell-phone, ‘We’re busted and out of here’ and then she’s gone on the junkie streets, lost among the eclogues she may summon of the broken window shade, pine trees and fountains, and whose sheep are these, Meliboeus, wandering through Golden Gate Park, through the Gate of Horn, through the Gate of Ivory, bow to you each lost sheep, each lost shepherd

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lost as the Twitterati of Market Street, the big bucks in town, bowing as they pass the lights still burning in a window at City Lights

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or bow the small-time hustlers of Fell Street, crack-heads and loan-sharks, lovers on the sidewalk, bow down the deacon of the Church of the Nativity burning in 1906, bow the bandits declared to lurk in the ruins –

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bow all of America’s discontents, bow down Chelsea Manning sweating it out in solitary, sweating out her transformation, bust the world wide open, girl, bow to the chance of love and revolution, bow

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as the stars bow down into the Pacific and just in eastern stands the tree of trees rising like a jewel, a flickering among mountains and trees still standing, and the helm of the Sierra Nevada sends the sun back into its own uprising and we are all one day older

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learning still, at any age, to live with what the world must say, bow the world

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of walk-ups and wet wipes, the leakage of

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bodily fluids pouring into the poem unchecked in the shameful flood of ovulate and jism, of slobber snot and knowledge that this is how a mountain builds slowly out of all the shit and puke and blood that will flow for ever from its reservoir of animals and living things – bow the downcast trees, bow the dogs and all the long-gone dead who will

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accord us back to those still breathing the bright air, still caught in the skylines of exhausted cities (bow, the cities) – bow, to Ferlinghetti offshore, skipper of the splinter boat, sub-chaser 1308, naval officer still navigating   

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long cold waters, war’s fog and mist falling over the bows and foredeck, a gale and broken cables in the makeshift sunken hulls of a D Day landing harbour – loose ships roaming, looming out of the night, a minesweeper crashed, broke our bow, so broadside to the waves, just rolling, 150 yards from wrecking on the beach, he says, cables caught around the screw, put a sailor over the side in a breeches buoy to pull them off, hauled him up, started out to sea again, got the other engine going, could see silhouettes of sunken ships in the breakwater – jammed the throttle full ahead and we charged out over one of those breakwater ships, straight between the fo’c’sle and the bridge, not a chance I'd take today, so when we reached open sea, the sailors let out a big cheer – bow each wave, bow each of the sailors

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or bow in Nagasaki your own broken heart of understanding what war will do, a giant field of scorched mulch sprawling out to the horizon, three square miles ‘looking like someone had worked it over with a huge blowtorch,’ – a few sticks from buildings jutting up like black arms, a teacup with human flesh fused into it, melted into the porcelain

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becoming in that instant a total pacifist

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and so, the road out of troubadour France, the road to San Francisco’s white towers, small-town kids gather on the streets, North Beach jazz clubs, cellars and old Barbary’s Playland-on-the-Coast, bow down the big dipper’s drop from the top of its stacked-up scaffold of poles and wooden rail-ties

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lighting up the beach to the first amusement arcades, cathedrals of chance where the muse still moves in Arkady

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or leaves you like Ozymandias, cracked and broken into bowing over his ruins of

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broken down deadfalls and dives, the door jambs thick with smoke, ‘tea’ and Lucky Strikes blowing their sweet stink out of International section clubs or street corners of Chinatown pungent with spice and up a small flight of rickety stairs, ramshackle pad in a shabby rat-run, ah, a ball of rubbery opium fired into bubbles in the pipe, ‘quick, quick, quick, now slow, now slow,’ the pipe boy sings, and all the sweat and plunge of tea houses and bars drunk on the chatter and roar of gods and genies of other times, another place

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and reading then your Coney Island jazz riffs at the Cellar, at Mike’s Place, spontaneous goof-city songs playing out in five-four time

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letters to the future’s jagged worn out broken teeth, the future that is – as it should be – fearsome and fraught with anxiety born of the sweetest vision, Sandoz acid dreams cutting up into

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ontologies and valency of this new age, our one-dimensional portals into the world, all our fear and love offered up into its forums, let us bow those offerings down, bow down

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beast born out of solitude’s dark flowers

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as even now in avail, just in emended words, the revisions made new still blazing a little hidden trail through the treeline, the wounded woods, their way into

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love's sweet momentary glance, its flicker in mascara’s mask, little darting sparrow flighted in the eyelid and in the eyelashes’ wild forest where Eros and his arrows play 

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or scattering us like rose petals on a muddy lane, the pug of fading footprints show of our steps into the lost histories where Calliope’s wide-open arms gather us up, women and men, as though to say

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bow down year of 1955, renaissance of the poem

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and all of poetry’s bald truth bowing its howl of sweet-ass beauty, half-grunted hymns to the high road mountains where the woman who married a bear still sleeps in a meadow at dawn, her breasts still bloody from nursing his cubs in snowmelt, while the long shadows of pines fall at her feet where all the world will follow

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lashed like Odysseus to the mast and all our ears unplugged to hear the sirens sing

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of Moloch howling out its sacrificial lambs, the children of the empire’s new wars lining up in draft queues to sing, and you in obscenity’s courtroom

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busting out the beatnik street of a poem that beats into the world without a metronome, lifting its junkie arm in time to every fix, making of time the musical phrase, the poem that will become song

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as Pound knew, bow down Ezra

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lost on the rack of Rapallo and Pisa, lost in St Elizabeth’s tower, the dark corridors of Chestnut Ward, gone into the stink of stale cabbage served in the refectories

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of which the madness is made and made again, knowing not its confection of songs that shimmer in sound waves shaping the air in a disembodied polyphony, leaves full of voices and here is one calling from the sidewalk –  ‘ Strozzi, eh, Strozzi, who will pay the universe its wage?’ – here in the bughouse

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bugged by the days of before and after – for all has been recorded, Uncle Ez – the old man ‘lying in his house of Bedlam’ stops his ears with paper against the shrieks and cries, knowing only in silence the cure will one of these sweet Fridays come

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as in the curative form of the formless void, free verse that undoes the world, what else to do but hang out drinking coffee, blow open the beat for the Beatles, or get high in a Moroccan hood holding court in Vesuvio’s, or high on the pocket poets jacking up into the mainline, high on road-wreck postmodern songs to a back seat shag, undone beehive, a lipstick smear on a button-down, so fucking high that she will say, ‘This is getting lofty, man’ – high on the high of the holy fool slipping into milady’s chamber to sing

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like one who has already fallen in love with love, like Peire Vidal, troubadour

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of the open road – kicking up a dust-cloud as he moves behind each letter, behind each word, fool with wisdom enough to monkey up poesie’s long song with a single stolen kiss – or walk in wolfskin beneath the window where she sleeps, La Loba, sweet Loba, her name pacing through each strophe of this poem   

                 Loba       Loba       Loba   –  your name

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breathing its whisper in my ear, a mystery to my heart or on my tongue as they hunted me, shepherds with hounds across the mountains of Cabaret, oh I heard myself calling you across the streets of Cavaillon, Lop as I was to you, my Loba – and the men who left me for dead outside a petrol station in Cavaillon, who left me for dead wherever I travelled, knives flashing, silver pistol in his belt

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and remember how you carried me to your house, almost dead, and laughed and made merry of my broken neck, my wounds and cured them with your kisses and all was joy although they’d flayed the pelt from me

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like Marsyas flayed for singing against the god, singing against the state, his cries flaring out across the woodlands of Phrygia, the beasts and birds, nymphs and goddesses bowing their heads in sorrow at the murder of song

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or flayed like Lorca at Fuente Grande, like Marguerite Porete, Osip Mandelstam, like Walter Raleigh and Martin Luther King, flayed as Marina T or the thirteen poets of the Anti-Fascist League were flayed, flayed as Joe Hill or Giordano Bruno on the pyre, or Babel in Butyrka Prison, or flayed as Ken Saro-Wiwa fighting the pipeline and all the others known and unknown, all lost 

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before their time, lost to time, lost in

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all that we have given to these algorithms of rhythm and language, pop-up menus and dialogue boxes, all these ways to lose yourself in the amazement of the maze – enslaved in their approximations of joy and

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life's giddy-up of another day, these lovers who bow to each

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other as they beside you bow, Larry, those four Shakespeares in the alley with their ‘pointed shoes and bells’ – Michael and Robbie, Ginsberg and the Jack of Hearts

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banging each their drum, their wild

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alphabets of noise and mashed-up meaning that bows to you

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like the old sailors and sea-wanderers bow, your great Uncle Désir – or like all the animals dying, or the old Italians, all of them gone into the endless tolling of bells, the crack of light that glimmers in the dark

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or gone into all the orgone accumulators and cloud-busting rainmakers the FAD stole from Wilhelm Reich, your birthday twin, Larry, let him

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bow to you in orgasm, bow to you in your love-nut ecstasy of all who have gone crazy for love, scrawling their love songs onto bathroom walls, riding the orgasm’s uplift as all of us once did into this, the world of

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all who fall in love with love and fling themselves into

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love's sweet abyss – as Marina said

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or into every trick the gods will play, the email gods and female gods and male gods – and who knows what other tricks they have for you, Larry, or you, sweet Loba

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bending your backs like Rose Sunny bends to making hay of the hard times –

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a ‘hot sale of headwear face mask and headband’

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like she’s been betting a buck both ways on the virus – and who hasn’t, brother? –

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or bowing to you, Larry, in these now darker days – your days of glaucoma and cataracts and all the macular stuff that brings

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blindness to the poet in which the vision brightens to see it all, like Homer for whom you named your dog . . . oh bow wow wow to you as Sam the Hunt says – with a lotta bow, a lotta wow - though as for eyesight

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all I know about cataracts is that they’re jazzed-up waterfalls – and that Wallace Stevens made of their solitude a poem, its torrent twisting and foaming into lonely rainbows arching over rocks

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lonely as Gregory Corso on a North Beach roof – who liked to recite from the Aeneid and watch as fog rolled in from the bay

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or Pound in his solitude learning how the syntax of certain languages – English among them – is such that we only really write and utter, in the entirety of our lives, a single sentence

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born of a first half-formed word and gone into the love, perhaps, of one who bows their ear to hear the last utterance

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as Jesus in his missing years gave the gift of love and went out of his mind, or we of his, or he of mine, dear John Prine, let us pray for him and bow to all who’ve gone before their time

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lost as the horse beneath a tree of hearts, a heart beneath a weeping willow, the willow that sighs beneath a chestnut, beneath the never to be finished Rockland of Rough Hill, or those whom we could not bury, left to the scavengers, rats scattering along the ridge, pigs and magpie, hawk – bow down old bones and skulls I’ve lodged in trees at eventide

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or in anguish at everything undone, and all that never will be done

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because life’s like that, its clouds arising mauve and vermillion, the latest dawn flowing out of the beautiful confusion that will be the undoing of us all

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and all its glory lost and not

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lost on the bow

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of bows this poem makes to the prism of its own unknowing, a sunbeam splitting into colours primal as the fiery greens of the riddles Virgil wrote that no one can answer – to trick the scholars, so it is said – that light that bends and bows to you, Lawrence, or bows to Loba

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becoming herself, wired for beauty as she walks through City Lights with her sweet wit – O! – life hid us in its jewel – and so we watch as she ascends the poetry stairs, takes in the shelves at a glance and rifles through all that is hers

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and leaves with a tote of souvenirs – let us say the poems of Anna A –

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like we might say this is all there is to say – or you in your wolfskin, so in mine, let her go, Larry, let her go, Cliff, for no one will catch her now – beating her way through the wolf-run streets, Loba going wild, Loba laughing into the glances off – and already lost in her voice-over of what’s to come, and this my final bow to you

Lawrence Ferlinghetti turned 101 on March 24. His birthday is commemorated in San Francisco as Lawrence Ferlinghetti Day.

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