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By Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Airport bus from JFK

cruising through Queens

passing huge endless cemetery   

by Long Island’s old expressway

(once a dirt path for wheelless Indians)   

myriad small tombstones tilted up   

gesturing statues on parapets   

stone arms or wings upraised   

lost among illegible inscriptions   

And the setting yellow sun

painting all of them

on one side only

with an ochre brush

Rows and rows and rows and rows   

of small stone slabs

tilted toward the sun forever   

While on the far horizon

Mannahatta’s great stone slabs   

skyscraper tombs and parapets   

casting their own long black shadows   

over all these long-haired graves   

the final restless places

of old-country potato farmers   

dustbin pawnbrokers

dead dagos and Dublin bouncers   

tinsmiths and blacksmiths and roofers   

house painters and house carpenters   

cabinet makers and cigar makers   

garment workers and streetcar motormen   

railroad switchmen and signal salesmen   

swabbers and sweepers and swampers   

steam-fitters and key-punch operators   

ward heelers and labor organizers   

railroad dicks and smalltime mafiosi   

shopkeepers and saloon keepers and doormen

icemen and middlemen and conmen   

housekeepers and housewives and dowagers   

French housemaids and Swedish cooks   

Brooklyn barmaids and Bronxville butlers   

opera singers and gandy dancers   

pitchers and catchers

in the days of ragtime baseball   

poolroom hustlers and fight promoters   

Catholic sisters of charity   

parish priests and Irish cops   

Viennese doctors of delirium   

now all abandoned in eternity   

parcels in a dead-letter office   

inscrutable addresses on them   

beyond further deliverance   

in an America wheeling past them   

and disappearing oblivious   

into East River’s echoing tunnels   

down the great American drain


Lawrence Ferlinghetti, “Queens Cemetery, Setting Sun” from These Are My Rivers: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 1993 by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Reprinted with the permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation, www.wwnorton.com/nd/welcome.htm.

Source: These Are My Rivers: New and Selected Poems (New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1993)

Poet Bio

Lawrence Ferlinghetti is best known for his rejection of traditional artistic and social ideas, a challenge that inspired a generation of writers in the 1950s known as the “Beats.” As a forerunner of the group, he opened the City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco in 1953. It became a major destination for freethinking writers and artists from all over the U.S., and also served as an independent publisher of “Beat” poetry, including his own, A Coney Island of the Mind (1958). Considered a historical benchmark for the time-period, that book maintains its place as one of the best-selling volumes of poetry of all time. The City Lights Bookstore remains a beacon for unorthodox writers and artists to this day.

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