I Am Waiting

It was the poet Wordsworth who said that in getting and spending we lay waste our powers.  These days, Lord knows, I still do plenty of spending.  As far as “getting” is concerned, well, I’m still getting up every morning—does that count?

Retirement has involved a particular kind of mental rewiring—the leisurely refocusing of my attention away from worldly concerns (work, politics, pop culture) and toward more timeless pleasures.  I would never have believed it:  sometimes I catch myself relaxing.

It’s a relaxing of a particular kind, too.  A certain openness to sensation.  Less prose, more poetry.  Less noise, more silence.  Fewer thoughts, more feelings—or depth of feeling.  A little less judging, a little more forgiveness.  Don’t ask me why.  I’m just pleased that it’s happening.

Which brings me to a poem that I encountered in my late twenties, by that lovely soul, Lawrence Ferlinghetti.  It’s called “I Am Waiting.”  It’s plenty famous as poems go.  You’ve probably heard the phrase, “rebirth of wonder.”  That’s what the poet says he’s waiting for when he says “I am waiting.”  I was waiting back then, too.  I could feel it.

image of lawrence ferlinghetti in 2009

Ferlinghetti in 2009

That’s what drew me to the poem, and still does.  It feels as if a kindly, worldly, slightly weary friend has put his finger on some indistinct longing of yours and said that he’s feeling it, too.  Ferlinghetti’s made countless readers feel that way for upwards of 50 years; A Coney Island of the Mind, the collection in which “I Am Waiting” was published in 1958, has sold over a million copies.

It was about 15 years ago that I ran into Lawrence Ferlinghetti at his bookstore, City Lights.  I was in San Francisco visiting a best buddy of mine, my old college roommate Ashley, who was dying of multiple myeloma.  Lingering in City Lights, meeting Ferlinghetti with his benign bearded countenance and his well-lived life there in that lovely store—these moments were as therapeutic to my spirits as the nearby Pacific.

He was in his seventies then and is, I’m glad to say, still around.  Last month he turned 93.  I would say to him, if I saw him again, “Isn’t it amazing just to be here?”  The Poetry Foundation website has a fascinating essay about him.  What a worthwhile human, a real source of wonder.  What a good life.

I Am Waiting

I am waiting for my case to come up
and I am waiting
for a rebirth of wonder
and I am waiting for someone
to really discover America
and wail
and I am waiting
for the discovery
of a new symbolic western frontier
and I am waiting
for the American Eagle
to really spread its wings
and straighten up and fly right
and I am waiting
for the Age of Anxiety
to drop dead
and I am waiting
for the war to be fought
which will make the world safe
for anarchy
and I am waiting
for the final withering away
of all governments
and I am perpetually awaiting
a rebirth of wonder

I am waiting for the Second Coming
and I am waiting
for a religious revival
to sweep thru the state of Arizona
and I am waiting
for the Grapes of Wrath to be stored
and I am waiting
for them to prove
that God is really American
and I am waiting
to see God on television
piped onto church altars
if only they can find
the right channel
to tune in on
and I am waiting
for the Last Supper to be served again
with a strange new appetizer
and I am perpetually awaiting
a rebirth of wonder

I am waiting for my number to be called
and I am waiting
for the Salvation Army to take over
and I am waiting
for the meek to be blessed
and inherit the earth
without taxes
and I am waiting
for forests and animals
to reclaim the earth as theirs
and I am waiting
for a way to be devised
to destroy all nationalisms
without killing anybody
and I am waiting
for linnets and planets to fall like rain
and I am waiting for lovers and weepers
to lie down together again
in a new rebirth of wonder

I am waiting for the Great Divide to be crossed
and I am anxiously waiting
for the secret of eternal life to be discovered
by an obscure general practitioner
and I am waiting
for the storms of life
to be over
and I am waiting
to set sail for happiness
and I am waiting
for a reconstructed Mayflower
to reach America
with its picture story and tv rights
sold in advance to the natives
and I am waiting
for the lost music to sound again
in the Lost Continent
in a new rebirth of wonder

I am waiting for the day
that maketh all things clear
and I am awaiting retribution
for what America did
to Tom Sawyer and I am waiting
for Alice in Wonderland
to retransmit to me
her total dream of innocence
and I am waiting
for Childe Roland to come
to the final darkest tower
and I am waiting
for Aphrodite
to grow live arms
at a final disarmament conference
in a new rebirth of wonder

I am waiting
to get some intimations
of immortality
by recollecting my early childhood
and I am waiting
for the green mornings to come again
youth’s dumb green fields come back again
and I am waiting
for some strains of unpremeditated art
to shake my typewriter
and I am waiting to write
the great indelible poem
and I am waiting
for the last long careless rapture
and I am perpetually waiting
for the fleeing lovers on the Grecian Urn
to catch each other up at last
and embrace
and I am awaiting
perpetually and forever
a renaissance of wonder

4 Responses to I Am Waiting


    White blossom on the pear trees
    has turned to petal snow and
    buzzing music of the bees
    has stopped, but will go on
    in peach and apple trees.

    Birds chase one another
    in kamikaze love play,
    and have signed the leases
    of all the nesting blocks
    and hidden nooks.

    The Dingodog proudly marks
    a brand-new tree
    each day,
    hoping still, to mark them all
    before Summer.

    The music of the Ocean
    is calming down
    to a pianissimo
    of waves, and no longer
    roars its tides.

    I stand in awe and, while
    looking up to the blue,
    blue sky, I listen for the sound
    of velvet hooves.
    I’m waiting for a Unicorn

    © Deborah Rey 2006

    Deeply touched by that beautiful man’s poem, I wonder if we are – deep down – not waiting for the same thing?

    • What a knockout, Ruth Deborah! A perfect complement to Ferlinghetti’s poem, his the one that grows out of the world of people and politics, yours one that grows out of one’s personal affinity with nature. A delight. Thank you!

  2. Caroline Altman Smith Apr 9, 2012 at 5:03 pm

    There is a Bruce Springsteen song in here somewhere. What an American Studies gem of a poem!

  3. Thank you. Great page.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>