A Space for Writers of the World
after Allen Ginsberg’s Supermarket in California
What thoughts I have of you this sun-drenched day, John Steinbeck, for I walked beneath the pristine and polished trees of the San Joaquin Valley. The acres of orchards, the neat rows of pruned and manicured grape vine. Nothing here withers on the stalk. America’s fruit basket laden with the white blossom of cauliflower and laborer’s backs bent over like little half-moons. As far as the eyes can see.
In my hungered nostalgia, and need to purchase foods in bulk. In massive containers and candy-striped cellophane. I went into the neon fright of the supermarket. Aisles awash in sterile hospital glow, Muzak played its senseless void and people shopped there like automatons. They swished by in their ever-utilitarian metal carts. Even the children were hypnotized and drooling at the sights. The lights. The lifeless piano sounds filtered from above as if a great crop-duster, it’s ceaseless whirring mechanics, sprayed down upon them, a foam of warped and numbing pesticide. Whole families of them lined-up and buying grapes, going Sun Mad. Driscoll strawberries rolling in their netted green baskets.
I saw you, John Steinbeck, grey-eyed as ever, neck weathered and your stiff short collar was blue. You were there poking around the produce. Eyeing the million eyes of potato, the short shocks of corn stalk lying there as if in uniform. A whole of army of vegetation. The artichokes stood at attention. The baby carrots whined. And the apples, in their fruity essence, sat patiently in the largest pyramid ever seen this side of the valley.
I heard you asking questions of each: Who picked you? Who plucked, sheared, gathered you? Are you the reaper?
I followed you close, winding in around the lemons, the coy zucchinis, the discounted onions. You muttered like an old man. Said something like, “Tom Joad died in vain.” Mumbled that a good grape ain’t what it used to be. Said something like, “Blood money.” And I’m sure I heard you whisper a rustic downtrodden whisper that sounded something like this, “Those poor dispossessed. Those limp-along Model-Ts, those busted Oakies. And them dang Mexicans ended up getting it all. Getting it all, didn’t they? Dollars a day. Dollars a day for all this.”
We strode down the glossy corridors. The safely packaged meat that never made you think of cow. Of animal. Of anything. We passed a poster that read, “Get Your Kicks on Route 66” and I think you might have chuckled. Or was it the supermarket madness that’s got ahold of you now?
The stores never close. There is 24-hour everything these days and so you wander still. Still you wander and I follow three paces behind.
(In my purse is your dog-eared book. I touch it now and think about the steam, gas, and sweat of the road. All those dreams streaming into California from Oklahoma, across Missouri, the small stretch of Texas panhandle, the turquoise and creamsicle skies of New Mexico and then finally the open-heart of California – pumping slick oils, money exchanges, short-handled hoes for the laborers, lint and a few coins for their work. The Hoovervilles and the memory of the Mother Road).
Ah, dear father, grey eyes of Americana and classics, what kind of country did you envision then? Have we met your standards? Exceeded? Or have we fallen into the chasm in the name of industry? Does your America still sound like a purring convoy of jalopies? Of children crying for mother’s milk? Or are we still just another type of mass exodus? The dust blowing into our eyes, blinding our abilities to see the people behind the labor? Picket signs? The sky foggy and lit up with insecticide until we don’t see the bodies. The brown bodies. The brown bodies. The brown bodies. The brown bodies in the fields and farms.
Are our ears plugged with a satiated and soothing white noise?