California: Selected Poems of a Dream

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This summer I promised myself I would read On the Road. Probably because I had promised myself I’d be in Los Angeles after I graduated, but mostly because I love to read it when it’s warm out and feel like a beat.

The first poet I ever loved was Allen Ginsberg, which was a short hop and skip away from my love for Jack Kerouac. Kerouac spun long sentences into big dreams and Allen Ginsberg lamented his generation with short fragments and curt speech. Together they were perfect. I will be a beat and I will move to California. Or at least see it.

So I did. A few times. But right now I still just have to dream I’ll make it.

In honor of A-Camp and in honor of the continuing tradition of its poetry workshop, I’d like to present you with a selection of poems about being in California. In case you’re just dreaming, too.

god i love eileen myles

A Supermarket in California, Allen Ginsberg (Excerpt):


What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman, for
I walked down the sidestreets under the trees with a headache
self-conscious looking at the full moon.
In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went
into the neon fruit supermarket, dreaming of your enumerations!
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?

I saw you, Walt Whitman, childless, lonely old grubber,
poking among the meats in the refrigerator and eyeing the grocery

I heard you asking questions of each: Who killed the
pork chops? What price bananas? Are you my Angel?
I wandered in and out of the brilliant stacks of cans
following you, and followed in my imagination by the store
We strode down the open corridors together in our
solitary fancy tasting artichokes, possessing every frozen
delicacy, and never passing the cashier.


No California, Eileen Myles:


The only time I
may’ve had
a kid
was at 19
and if that kid
also had a kid
at 19, then at
38 I’d be a
And if that
kid, next year,
also had a kid
I’d be a great grandmother.
It’s late
so I want
to call
in California
but I’m there.


On Leaving Los Angeles, Walter Wykes:


eighty year sleep
dreams of long ago
four hundred yellow daisies
plough the field

found a good city
good place for a life
so we thought in our youth
plough the field

plant good crops
the harvest will come
black harvest with its fruit
plough the field

same old ground
this earth grown cold
plough the field once more
there’s nothing else

she says the sun will come
it will bring heat and daisies
it will warm our hearts
will it bake us into oblivion?


California Prodigal, Maya Angelou (Excerpt):


His lupin fields spurn old
Deceit and agile poppies dance
In golden riot.   Each day is
Fulminant, exploding brightly
Under the gaze of his exquisite
Sires, frozen in the famed paint
Of dead masters. Audacious
Sunlight casts defiance
At their feet.


A Promise to California, Walt Whitman:


A PROMISE to California,
Also to the great Pastoral Plains, and for Oregon:
Sojourning east a while longer, soon I travel toward you, to remain,
to teach robust American love;
For I know very well that I and robust love belong among you, inland,
and along the Western Sea;
For These States tend inland, and toward the Western Sea–and I will

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Carmen spent six years at Autostraddle, ultimately serving as Straddleverse Director, Feminism Editor and Social Media Co-Director. She is now the Consulting Digital Editor at Ms. and writes regularly for DAME, the Women’s Media Center, the National Women’s History Museum and other prominent feminist platforms; her work has also been published in print and online by outlets like BuzzFeed, Bitch, Bust, CityLab, ElixHER, Feministing, Feminist Formations, GirlBoss, GrokNation, MEL, Mic and SIGNS, and she is a co-founder of Argot Magazine. You can find Carmen on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr or in the drive-thru line at the nearest In-N-Out.

Carmen has written 919 articles for us.


  1. I’m really pleased that you’ve included all of my favorites.
    “I will be a beat and I will move to California.”– This was my dream for a long time. I’ve basically given up on it/found a new dream, but every once in a while I still wish I had the courage to do it.

  2. I’m dreaming of moving back to the states and to that pretty lady waiting for me in L.A.

    This post made me smile.

  3. i LOVE this post. I’m also a big fan of some of John Muir’s quotes about California – they’re not poetry except for how they really are:

    “Looking eastward from the summit of Pacheco Pass one shining morning, a landscape was displayed that after all my wanderings still appears as the most beautiful I have ever beheld. At my feet lay the Great Central Valley of California, level and flowery, like a lake of pure sunshine, forty or fifty miles wide, five hundred miles long, one rich furred garden of yellow Compositae. And from the eastern boundary of this vast golden flower-bed rose the mighty Sierra, miles in height, and so gloriously colored and so radiant, it seemed not clothed with light but wholly composed of it, like the wall of some celestial city…. Then it seemed to me that the Sierra should be called, not the Nevada or Snowy Range, but the Range of Light. And after ten years of wandering and wondering in the heart of it, rejoicing in its glorious floods of light, the white beams of the morning streaming through the passes, the noonday radiance on the crystal rocks, the flush of the alpenglow, and the irised spray of countless waterfalls, it still seems above all others the Range of Light.”

    sorry that is long but it’s one of the best things written about california ever.

  4. This poem probably (most likely) is not written about California, or anywhere in particular really, but is one of the gems I always have to mention whenever poetry is involved. I am also genuinely sorry about straying from the topic at hand. The poem is by Mary Oliver… enjoy!

    “Life so far doesn’t have any other name,
    but breath and light, wind and rain.
    If there’s a temple, I haven’t found it yet.
    I simply go on drifting, in the heaven of the grass
    and the weeds.”

  5. Thank you for the Walt Whitman and Allen Ginsburg! I remember both of those poems. Whitman was one of my first poet loves, and one of the first people I read that talked about queerness as if it was perfectly natural and beautiful.

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