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,

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

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