“On Finding A Coney Island of the Mind in an Antiques Shop” by Judith Sornberger

Judith Sornberger


Ferlinghetti, you were my first—

        the first book of poems I ever bought

    forking over

  cash earned swirling soft serve

          into cones, squirting

        ketchup peace signs onto burgers at the DQ.

Back when almost

        every sunset above the kitchen sink

  in the wounded wilderness of Omaha, Nebraska

            occasioned a rebirth of wonder

even as the war plowed graves

    for guys who could’ve been my boyfriends,

  my friends and I donning black

          armbands and occupying our high

    school’s center staircase singing

We Shall Overcome                     back when

  my first French kiss was startling and sweet as a surrealist

    treat from your pennycandystore beyond the El

and I wanted to be your girlfriend

    to leap

        from one

            line to the next

till I joined you and your wild pals

      in San Francisco—the purely naked young virgin

    ignored by the crowd watching the erection

            of the St. Francis statue

and singing to herself

  to the syncopated

      clickety-clackety rhythm of typewriter keys

in my basement bedroom in the ‘60s suburbs.

    Somewhere in the next five decades I misplaced

          your circus of the soul,

            its phallic towers lit like Xmas on the cover

    maybe during the wild hot ride of child-birth or

skedaddling from one hapless marriage to another.

      So, I’m walking down these aisles

  of what-once-was—the abandoned and the tawdry—

    a kewpie doll won by some boy for his girlfriend

missing most of her carnival feathers; a pressed lead Indian minus

      the horse his curved legs once embraced, an engagement

ring whose diamond is rheumy as ancient eyes

      but here you are for two bucks and in great shape for your age

        glowing like a renaissance of wonder

  like the absurd,

            arcane belief I came here for a reason.

from Poets Respond
February 28, 2021


Judith Sornberger: “This poem is written in response to learning of the late great poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s death this week. The first book of poetry I ever bought was his A Coney Island of the Mind when I was a teenager. Learning of his death reminded me of finding—a few months ago—a copy of that book in an antiques store.” (web)

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