I probably should’ve shared this poem by Lawrence Ferlenghetti before everyone went to North Beach.
The Old Italians Dying
For years the old Italians have been dying
all over America
For years the old Italians in faded felt hats
have been sunning themselves and dying
You have seen them on the benches
in the park in Washington Square
the old Italians in their black high button shoes
the old men in their old felt fedoras
with stained hatbands
have been dying and dying
day by day
You have seen them
every day in Washington Square San Francisco
the slow bell
tolls in the morning
in the Church of Peter & Paul
in the marzipan church on the plaza
toward ten in the morning the slow bell tolls
in the towers of Peter & Paul
and the old men who are still alive
sit sunning themselves in a row
on the wood benches in the park
and watch the processions in and out
funerals in the morning
weddings in the afternoon
slow bell in the morning Fast bell at noon
In one door out the other
the old men sit there in their hats
and watch the coming & going
You have seen them
the ones who feed the pigeons
cutting the stale bread
with their thumbs & penknives
the ones with old pocketwatches
the old ones with gnarled hands
and wild eyebrows
the ones with the baggy pants
with both belt & suspenders
the grappa drinkers with teeth like corn
the Piemontesi the Genovesi the Siciliani
smelling of garlic & pepperoni
the ones who loved Mussolini
the old fascists
the ones who loved Garibaldi
the old anarchists reading L’Umanita Nova
the ones who loved Sacco & Vanzetti
They are almost all gone now
They are sitting and waiting their turn
and sunning themselves in front of the church
over the doors of which is inscribed
a phrase which would seem to be unfinished
from Dante’s Paradiso
about the glory of the One
who moves everything…
The old men are waiting
for it to be finished
for their glorious sentence on earth
to be finished
the slow bell tolls & tolls
the pigeons strut about
not even thinking of flying
the air too heavy with heavy tolling
The black hired hearses draw up
the black limousines with black windowshades
shielding the widows
the widows with the black long veils
who will outlive them all
You have seen them
madre de terra, madre di mare
The widows climb out of the limousines
The family mourners step out in stiff suits
The widows walk so slowly
up the steps of the cathedral
fishnet veils drawn down
leaning hard on darkcloth arms
Their faces do not fall apart
They are merely drawn apart
They are still the matriarchs
in Little Italys all over America
the old dead dagos
hauled out in the morning sun
that does not mourn for anyone
One by one Year by year
they are carried out
never stops tolling
The old Italians with lapstrake faces
are hauled out of the hearses
by the paid pallbearer
in mafioso mourning coats & dark glasses
The old dead men are hauled out
in their black coffins like small skiffs
They enter the true church
for the first time in many years
in these carved black boats
The priests scurry about
as if to cast off the lines
The other old men
still alive on the benches
watch it all with their hats on
You have seen them sitting there
waiting for the bocce ball to stop rolling
waiting for the bell
for the slow bell
to be finished tolling
telling the unfinished Paradiso story
as seen in an unfinished phrase
on the face of a church
in a black boat without sails
making his final haul
to John Garfield
by Nicholas Christopher
The heat’s on, dead wind shoots up
9th Avenue, a white T-shirt flutters
On the convertible’s antenna
Outside Billy’s Pool Parlour.
New York’s last tough guy
Walks down 44th Street, bums a smoke
And shows a good left
While feinting punches.
He crosses town, watches
East River tugs link the bridges
With foam in afternoon glare;
Whatever died in the last war
Left Brooklyn harbor, maybe
Is still out at sea.
After Hollywood, the big money,
Blacklisted out of pictures
When he won’t give names;
His voice a hoarseness,
Health gone to hell,
Caught up in gin and rumpled raincoats,
He lives in West Side hotels
With ex-society girls,
B-actresses and three old bankbooks.
He drinks for nine months straight,
Stirs endless ice cubes
In the narrow bars off Broadway,
Blacks out regularly at 4 a. m. ,
Dies at 39 in hotel sheets,
Journalists delighted to report
An English girl, under-aged
And on junk, in bed
With him at the time.
Uptown in a Bronx trainyard Three kids grown past stickball
Play blackjack under an overpass,
Blow dope and belt cough medicine
Over a low fire—the one
In the black sweater loses,
Can’t pay up, leans back
And watches rain come down
On a southbound express.
I sat all morning in the college sick bay
Counting bells knelling classes to a close.
At two o’clock our neighbours drove me home.
In the porch I met my father crying –
He had always taken funerals in his stride –
And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow.
The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pram
When I came in, and I was embarrassed
By old men standing up to shake my hand
And tell me they were “sorry for my trouble”.
Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest,
Away at school, as my mother held my hand
In hers and coughed out angry tearless signs.
At ten o’clock an ambulance arrived
With the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurses.
Next morning I went up into the room. Snowdrops
And candles soothed the bedside; I saw him
For the first time in six weeks. Paler now,
Wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple,
He lay in the four foot box as in his cot.
No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.
A four foot box, a foot for every year.
“I Want a President” by Zoe Leonard
The ruling class is degenerate.
The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees
Is my destroyer.
And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose
My youth is bent by the same wintry fever.
The force that drives the water through the rocks
Drives my red blood; that dries the mouthing streams
Turns mine to wax.
And I am dumb to mouth unto my veins
How at the mountain spring the same mouth sucks.
The hand that whirls the water in the pool
Stirs the quicksand; that ropes the blowing wind
Hauls my shroud sail.
And I am dumb to tell the hanging man
How of my clay is made the hangman’s lime.
The lips of time leech to the fountain head;
Love drips and gathers, but the fallen blood
Shall calm her sores.
And I am dumb to tell a weather’s wind
How time has ticked a heaven round the stars.
And I am dumb to tell the lover’s tomb
How at my sheet goes the same crooked worm.
— Dylan Thomas (1934)
Bertolt Brecht, “Hollywood Elegies”
The village of Hollywood was planned according to the notion
People in these parts have of heaven. In these parts
They have come to the conclusion that God
Requiring a heaven and a hell, didn’t need to
Plan two establishments but
Just the one: heaven. It
Serves the unprosperous, unsuccessful