Study Guide

A Supermarket in California Sexuality and Sexual Identity

By Allen Ginsberg

Sexuality and Sexual Identity

What peaches and what penumbras! Whole families shopping at night! Aisles full of husbands! Wives in the avocados, babies in the tomatoes!—and you, Garcia Lorca, what were you doing down by the watermelons? (3)

While he feels so lonely that he must conjure up an imaginary friend, the speaker sees entire families shopping together at the supermarket. They provide a contrast to his situation. But then he imagines that he sees Garcia Lorca, another gay poet, shopping, too. Perhaps the speaker is not such an outsider here, if there are other gay poets around.

I saw you, Walt Whitman, childless, lonely old grubber, poking among the meats in the refrigerator and eyeing the grocery boys. I heard you asking questions of each: Who killed the pork chops? What price bananas? Are you my Angel? (4-5)

The speaker imagines that Whitman is hitting on the young male grocery clerks by asking slyly suggestive questions about the food for sale. It seems at first that the imaginary Whitman's looking for sex, but then he asks an incredibly sweet question. Maybe he's looking for love, too.

Will we walk all night through solitary streets? The trees add shade to shade, lights out in the houses, we'll both be lonely. Will we stroll dreaming of the lost America of love past blue automobiles in driveways, home to our silent cottage? (10-11).

The speaker asks a whole bunch of questions of the imaginary Whitman, and posits them both as lonely, even though they're walking together. They both seem like outsiders in this suburban world of nuclear families at the supermarket and "blue automobiles in driveways." The speaker asks about Whitman's "lost America of love," assuming that Whitman's 19th-century America was move loving (possibly meaning more open and accepting) than Ginsberg's.

Ah, dear father, graybeard, lonely old courage-teacher, what America did you have when Charon quit poling his ferry and you got out on a smoking bank and stood watching the boat disappear on the black waters of Lethe? (12)

Here, the speaker casts doubt on his earlier thoughts about the "lost America of love." We are left with an image of Whitman standing alone on the bank of Lethe, the river of forgetting. It seems like the speaker acknowledges that Whitman's America wasn't perfect, either. In America, both men are outsiders due to their sexual identities.

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