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Syndic Literary Journal

City Lights – A tribute to Ferlinghetti

Written & Narrated by B. Amore

City Lights bookstore on a somnolent Sunday afternoon – my time away from mothering, the father caring for the two little ones, all watching the Sunday football game.  I am free, in warm San Francisco sunlight, walking quiet streets between my home at 719 Green Street in North Beach to City Lights at the corner of Columbus and Grant. Not pushing the stroller, walking at my own pace, in solitude, the grey sidewalk walks reflect sunlight back to me.

The bookstore, my favorite refuge outside the house, is filled with all sorts of volumes, hard cover, paper back, thin, thick and in between.  Books of poetry line shelf after shelf.  Poems Pennyeach slim volumes draw my hand.  Still today, some reside in my studio library, bound in deep purple and white. 

Sequestered among the shelves on a quiet Sunday afternoon with rarely anyone else in the store, I could lose myself in San Francisco poets, Michael McLure, Leonore Kandel, Richard Farina, Diane DiPrima, read Gary Snyder, Lou Welch, discover poets whose names I can’t now remember, and others whom I do remember, Ginsberg, Kerouac, Ferlinghetti.  They were bards of words which raised praise and controversy in those sixties days when walking down Columbus, the subtle aroma of marijuana would pass by like a light breeze, when cafés were filled with “Beat” looking people dressed in black, berets worn French-style, coffee sipped slowly as conversations filled hours. 

I was still young, almost prematurely a mother of two in a new city, seeking to balance life with a man I had almost left, patching together part-time work, mothering, creativity.  Swamped in the day-to-day, City Lights beckoned me in my rare hours alone, offering me a world of imagination, of challenge, of new ways of thinking.

Ferlinghetti, silver-haired, contained, gracious, would often frequent a café on Telegraph Hill, high up from the traffic of downtown North Beach.  It was a quiet café, very few visitors in mid-afternoon when a young mother with a toddler and infant would stop by for respite on the daily stroll.  We never spoke. 

I would sit at a table closer to the door in case the children got rowdy, nursing my one cappuccino as long as the children would permit.   The eldest, a girl around three, would ride standing straight up on the back of the stroller.  The younger brother, six months old, would be safely ensconced in a wicker basket set into the stroller’s seat.  In the café, the girl child would converse with me.  She was already adept at using language, imaginative, telling me stories.  The youngest, with wide eyes, would sit contentedly lounging and looking.

Ferlinghetti, a quintessential gentleman in jacket and pressed shirt, always sat alone toward the right center of the small café.  Light from the window that faced the bay glinted off his silvery hair and closely trimmed beard.  We never spoke.  In fact, at the beginning, I asked myself if he was really the famous poet, co-owner of City Lights.  I never saw him at the bookstore, only in this quiet café.  His presence was a light to me, proof that another world of writing and thought existed, giving me hope for a more distant day when there might be more time for my own creative expression.

As I walked down the steep hill to Washington Square Park, I would muse on the image of the poet as an ordinary man, sipping espresso, oblivious to the young mother breathing in his aura of words and light, taking inspiration from his presence and his poems, still seeking the courage to believe in her own voice.




Compiled/Published by LeRoy Chatfield
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