The time: Evening, Autumn, 2002
The Setting: A reading sponsored by The Poetry Center of Chicago in an elegant building, downtown.
The facts of that day are actual, not just metaphorical. Here is my poem inspired by Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s reading, which seemed to temporarily disrupt geography among other things, posted now in honor of his passing, at age 101, last week.
Let me tell you a story…
Traffic is thick, but smooth.
Rain, not sleet, falls from mid-October sky,
trees reluctantly flame.
All directions lead to Rome.
Building disguised with scaffolding,
I walk past unnoticing and have to backtrack.
Remaining front row seats reserved
for important people, few do not come.
A woman, whose daughter is in a wheelchair,
removes her raincoat and umbrella from a prime chair,
offering it to me. I accept gladly.
Welcome. Introductions set the scene.
Gilded room filled and beyond.
Audience willing to be amused and amazed
with sharp use of language.
Ferlinghetti, blindfolded, steps groping onto the stage,
reading his first poem as if blind, but “cheats,”
turning pages as he reads. Or does not cheat,
reading from memory, turning pages for effect.
The crowd laughs, delighted at the ruse.
He continues, eyes uncovered now, twinkling,
having a good time—
born in 1919, still in mental prime.
About Willie Mays and Tito Fuentes,
about a dog who wants communion,
about peace and Prague, and painting with light.
Rapt faces of the audience upturned:
an unlined earnest Greek god face,
another face framed by fuchsia hair,
the faces of matrons, students,
artists, poets, professors, insiders, outsiders.
Now and then a camera flashes as he speaks,
hands clap after most every poem.
In expressive sing/song he reads eighty minutes,
stopping briefly for small sips of water from a sport bottle.
The poet dons aviator goggles and leather cap,
ending with “A History of Airplanes”
from Wright brothers and Lindy to 9/11.
He stops with a smile—pleased.
Admirers line up to get a piece of him to take home.
I consider the long line and turn to go. Outside on the street,
a dollar in a cup for an invisible newspaper.
Leaving in rain to meet husband waiting at train.
Parking garage machine will not take my card—
three times it denies me before letting me leave.
When I emerge, driving north,
the streets of Chicago no longer run in their previous directions.
Confused, I drive south on an east/west street
and keep circling to find my way until
I decide to go with what I know.
Margaret Dubay Mikus
From my poetic journal.
Tomorrow part 2, what happened next (well, more than a decade later).
My Ferlinghetti Story, part 2