Speaking of visions and visionaries, here’s a poem from the late, great visionary Allen Ginsberg. In it, he imagines a vision of Walt Whitman in a supermarket. Enjoy!
A Supermarket In California
by Allen Ginsberg
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!
[The rest of the poem has been removed because it’s almost certainly still in copyright. But I doubt you’ll have any trouble finding it on the Web.]
Okay, the first thing you have to know is that Ginsberg didn’t really see Whitman in a supermarket. Maybe he saw somebody who looked like Whitman and that touched off this poem. But in whatever case, he was firmly in touch with reality.
The next thing you have to know is that Ginsberg was obsessed with Whitman. He loved the poems, loved the ecstatic quality of them, loved Whitman’s love of life and diversity (and what better model for diversity than a supermarket?), loved the fact that Whitman loved America, loved the fact that Whitman was gay. There was a similarity there (one of Ginsberg’s most famous lines was “America, I’m putting my queer shoulder to the wheel”) and boy howdy, didn’t Ginsberg know it!
So in his imagination Ginsberg sees Whitman, his role model. “Where are we going?” he asks. Meaning himself, meaning his country. No answer, of course. But he thinks of the America of his childhood, lost in the past, and then of Whitman’s America, lost in his past. So it all resolves in a vision of America as ever-changing and yet still there when the old poet is dead and still there again when the young poet is dead. So it’s a love poem, really, to a country that is no more and yet remains.
I don’t need to tell you that Charon ferries the dead across the River Lethe to the afterlife.