Today is poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s birthday. I was surprised to see he’s 96 years old today. Boy he’s lived a long life. I remember reading a poem of his called “Endless Life” where he describes the feeling his life has been going on forever, and that must have been written some thirty years ago. He really has been living endlessly! I don’t consider him a great poet, but I have to admit he’s a secret pleasure of mine. Like most of the Beat poets, he can be fun to read without taking the themes seriously, which I guess does a disservice to them since they want to be taken seriously. I would classify Ferlinghetti as San Francisco radical, which is pretty radical. But Ferlinghetti isn’t usually caustic; he goes down softer.
And to honor his birthday and the upcoming baseball season, which is about ten days from starting—I can’t wait!!—I’m going to post this Ferlinghetti poem on baseball. I don’t know when this was written, but Juan Marichal, Tito Fuentes, and Willie Mays played together for the San Francisco Giants in the late 60s and early 70s.
By Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Watching baseball, sitting in the sun, eating popcorn,
reading Ezra Pound,
and wishing that Juan Marichal would hit a hole right through the
Anglo-Saxon tradition in the first Canto
and demolish the barbarian invaders.
When the San Francisco Giants take the field
and everybody stands up for the National Anthem,
with some Irish tenor's voice piped over the loudspeakers,
with all the players struck dead in their places
and the white umpires like Irish cops in their black suits and little
black caps pressed over their hearts,
Standing straight and still like at some funeral of a blarney bartender,
and all facing east,
as if expecting some Great White Hope or the Founding Fathers to
appear on the horizon like 1066 or 1776.
But Willie Mays appears instead,
in the bottom of the first,
and a roar goes up as he clouts the first one into the sun and takes
off, like a footrunner from Thebes.
The ball is lost in the sun and maidens wail after him
as he keeps running through the Anglo-Saxon epic.
And Tito Fuentes comes up looking like a bullfighter
in his tight pants and small pointy shoes.
And the right field bleechers go mad with Chicanos and blacks
and Brooklyn beer-drinkers,
"Tito! Sock it to him, sweet Tito!"
And sweet Tito puts his foot in the bucket
and smacks one that don't come back at all,
and flees around the bases
like he's escaping from the United Fruit Company.
As the gringo dollar beats out the pound.
And sweet Tito beats it out like he's beating out usury,
not to mention fascism and anti-semitism.
And Juan Marichal comes up,
and the Chicano bleechers go loco again,
as Juan belts the first ball out of sight,
and rounds first and keeps going
and rounds second and rounds third,
and keeps going and hits paydirt
to the roars of the grungy populace.
As some nut presses the backstage panic button
for the tape-recorded National Anthem again,
to save the situation.
But it don't stop nobody this time,
in their revolution round the loaded white bases,
in this last of the great Anglo-Saxon epics,
in the territorio libre of Baseball.
Yes, even here he mixes some sort of radical politics, but what the heck. The radical lines and phrases make me laugh.