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By Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Retired ballerinas on winter afternoons   

          walking their dogs

                      in Central Park West

    (or their cats on leashes—

       the cats themselves old highwire artists)   

The ballerinas

                leap and pirouette

                           through Columbus Circle   

         while winos on park benches

               (laid back like drunken Goudonovs)   

            hear the taxis trumpet together

               like horsemen of the apocalypse   

                               in the dusk of the gods   

It is the final witching hour

                when swains are full of swan songs   

    And all return through the dark dusk   

                to their bright cells

                                  in glass highrises

      or sit down to oval cigarettes and cakes   

                              in the Russian Tea Room   

    or climb four flights to back rooms

                                 in Westside brownstones   

               where faded playbill photos

                        fall peeling from their frames   

                            like last year’s autumn leaves


Lawrence Ferlinghetti, “Retired Ballerinas, Central Park West” from These Are My Rivers. Copyright © 1981 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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By Lawrence Ferlinghetti

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