Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Ferlinghetti and Me: Together Again

The world is a beautiful place
to be born into,
if you don’t mind some people dying
all of the time
or maybe only starving
some of the time
which isn’t half so bad
if it isn’t you.

These words found me again after forty years a couple of days ago when they came floating through my newsfeed on Facebook in that little side ticker that bombards you with every random post that every random friend is sharing - that scrolling annoyance that I find impossible to ignore.

I followed the words to Lew Jaffe’s page, a guy who friended me because he had gone to high school with my younger brother, and clicked on the YouTube link he’d shared on his page.

And there I heard a long forgotten familiar voice reciting words that once connected to every cell in my body.

I was 16 years old when I first heard Lawrence Ferlinghetti. I don’t remember exactly how or where, but it seems that one day A Coney Island of the Mind, with its black and white cityscape on the cover and its free verse poems inside found its way into my life. For months, I’d spend every night before falling asleep reading his poems over and over again, silently to myself if my sister was in her bed. On the nights she wasn't there, I’d read his words aloud, savoring each sound and image, while trying on hundreds of different voices.

Sometimes during eternity, some guy shows up….

I didn't get much sleep last night thinking about underwear....

Outside the leaves were falling and they cried, Too soon! Too soon!

I felt each word enter my young body. But more than that, I was taken up by the rhythm and the rise and fall of the sounds and syllables and for the first time in my life, I thought, yes. I get it. I understand poetry.

When my 11th grade Honors English teacher gave us the assignment to research a poet and recite a an example of that poet’s work to the class, there was never any question which poet I would do. And I didn’t seek Mr. Saunders’ permission. I didn’t even think to ask. Just stood there in front of 34 of my peers, wearing my torn, low-riding, hip-hugging jeans, a tightly ribbed, faded, pink poor boy T shirt, a thick black belt with a heavy silver buckle pulling down the already low waistband of my jeans (revealing my perfect navel) with strands of my frizzy black hair escaping the pony tail band which couldn't contain it all. My silver wire rimmed glasses with the blue tinted lenses obscured my eyes, as this strange,semi-suburban sheltered 16 year old Jewish girl stood there in that drab classroom arranged in neat rows on the second floor of George Washington High School in Northeast Philadelphia - and became Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

Afterwards I took my seat and only half listened as my classmates shared the words of Robert Frost, William Carlos Williams, Carl Sandburg (or from the most brilliant boy in the class) Wallace Stevens ( whom I couldn’t understand at all!).

The only comment Mr. Saunders made when he gave me a B- for my presentation was that Ferlinghetti wasn’t a “real” poet at all.

But I didn’t care.

I had learned that Ferlinghetti had wanted to “rescue poetry form the ivory towers of academia and return it to the people.” And somehow I had gotten that, even as a lonely misfit of a girl.

In college, I distanced myself from that odd girl I once had been and recently, I have been paying for this - experiencing a dissociation between the girl I was and the woman I chose to become.

I changed my name.
I changed my hair.
I changed my teeth.
I changed my face.
And I moved further and further out of my body into my head.

I am working on this in therapy. Trying to re-integrate the long dormant pieces of my young self whose absence from my older self has kept me from becoming whole.

I shared this story with Angelo Spoto, my therapist, a Jungian analyst, who begins every session with the generative question, “Where’s the heat today?”

So I tell him breathlessly about dungarees and navels, wire rimmed glasses and high school and Facebook feeds and YouTube links and A Coney Island of the Mind.

"How did she even find him?" I ask Angelo, surprised to find myself in awe of the independent and inquisitive girl I once had been.

"There was no Internet. She couldn't Google him and none of her friends were into poetry,” I say incredulously.

“You didn’t find him, Marsha. Ferlinghetti found you,” Angelo says with a wink.

And he did.


Once in 1968, most likely at the Marlo Book Store in the Roosevelt Shopping Center on Cottman Avenue where I'd go on Saturdays and spend hours running my fingers over the bindings of hundred of books, waiting for one to vibrate and move into my open hands.

And, here on Facebook in front of my computer screen, where I find myself once again standing in front of my English class in 1968 reciting the words that so moved me.

Only this time, in my own body.


me, in 1970.

me today

Full circle. Together again.


Anonymous said...

Easy to peel an orange or remove your shirt, much harder to shed the outer skin of our life, all that has clung to us for our so many years and then to find a way back.

Love the way you weave the story through the mosaic of your life.

And it is a great world to be born into, especially when with the one you love.

Susan said...

WOW. Wonderful weaving of then and now. With retirement I find that I am trying to remember and to write. I first discovered Ferlinghetti in a Clark University freshman seminar called "The Beat and the Hip." There poetry and essays broke the mold I had known over the world and gave me to the mobilizations of 1970. Later, I saw some of that innocence again in HAIR. When you open honest moments like this, you provide fuel for my journey too! God Bless you!

Stephen said...

really beautiful fabric of thenandnow