Sunflower Sutra

by allen ginsberg

I walked on the banks of the tincan banana dock and

sat down under the huge shade of a Southern

Pacific locomotive to look at the sunset over the

box house hills and cry.

Jack Kerouac sat beside me on a busted rusty iron

pole, companion, we thought the same thoughts

of the soul, bleak and blue and sad-eyed, sur-

rounded by the gnarled steel roots of trees of


The oily water on the river mirrored the red sky, sun

sank on top of final Frisco peaks, no fish in that

stream, no hermit in those mounts, just our-

selves rheumy-eyed and hungover like old bums

on the riverbank, tired and wily.

Look at the Sunflower, he said, there was a dead gray

shadow against the sky, big as a man, sitting

dry on top of a pile of ancient sawdust–

–I rushed up enchanted–it was my first sunflower,

memories of Blake–my visions–Harlem

and Hells of the Eastern rivers, bridges clanking Joes

Greasy Sandwiches, dead baby carriages, black

treadless tires forgotten and unretreaded, the

poem of the riverbank, condoms pots, steel

knives, nothing stainless, only the dank muck

and the razor-sharp artifacts passing into the


and the gray Sunflower poised against the sunset,

crackly bleak and dusty with the smut and smog

and smoke of olden locomotives in its eye–

corolla of bleary spikes pushed down and broken like

a battered crown, seeds fallen out of its face,

soon-to-be-toothless mouth of sunny air, sun-

rays obliterated on its hairy head like a dried

wire spiderweb,

leaves stuck out like arms out of the stem, gestures

from the sawdust root, broke pieces of plaster

fallen out of the black twigs, a dead fly in its ear,

Unholy battered old thing you were, my sunflower O

my soul, I loved you then!

The grime was no man’s grime but death and human


all that dress of dust, that veil of darkened railroad

skin, that smog of cheek, that eyelid of black

mis’ry, that sooty hand or phallus or protuber-

ance of artificial worse-than-dirt–industrial–

modern–all that civilization spotting your

crazy golden crown–

and those blear thoughts of death and dusty loveless

eyes and ends and withered roots below, in the

home-pile of sand and sawdust, rubber dollar

bills, skin of machinery, the guts and innards

of the weeping coughing car, the empty lonely

tincans with their rusty tongues alack, what

more could I name, the smoked ashes of some

cock cigar, the cunts of wheelbarrows and the

milky breasts of cars, wornout asses out of chairs

sphincters of dynamos–all these

entangled in your mummied roots–and you there

standing before me in the sunset, all your glory

in your form!

A perfect beauty of a sunflower! a perfect excellent

lovely sunflower existence! a sweet natural eye

to the new hip moon, woke up alive and excited

grasping in the sunset shadow sunrise golden

monthly breeze!

How many flies buzzed round you innocent of your

grime, while you cursed the heavens of the rail-

road and your flower soul?

Poor dead flower? when did you forget you were a

flower? when did you look at your skin and

decide you were an impotent dirty old locomo-

tive? the ghost of a locomotive? the specter and

shade of a once powerful mad American locomo-


You were never no locomotive, Sunflower, you were a


And you Locomotive, you are a locomotive, forget me


So I grabbed up the skeleton thick sunflower and stuck

it at my side like a scepter,

and deliver my sermon to my soul, and Jack’s soul

too, and anyone who’ll listen,

–We’re not our skin of grime, we’re not our dread

bleak dusty imageless locomotive, we’re all

beautiful golden sunflowers inside, we’re bles-

sed by our own seed golden hairy naked ac-

complishment-bodies growing into mad black

formal sunflowers in the sunset, spied on by our

eyes under the shadow of the mad locomotive

riverbank sunset Frisco hilly tincan evening sit-

down vision.