Love in the Penguin Dust

Gregory Corso

I came across this poet and this poem when I was researching an essay about the infamous Chelsea Hotel and past residents.  Angry young men like Dylan Thomas, Brendon Behan: The 1957 – 1964 Beat generation of angry young men like writer Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs – poets Alan Ginsberg and Gregory Corso (b. USA 1930 – 2001), whose poem ‘Marriage’ that end in the penguin dust intrigued me.  The poem itself is romantically fanciful in places, but the poet’s aversion and fear soon becomes clear that he has talked himself out of entering that institution!  But penguin dust? What on earth is it?  The only thing I could think of is a chocolate penguin bar, the dust or crumbs being left at the bottom of the biscuit barrel.  But that cannot be right – Penguins have wrappers on.  I give up.  But a jolly good poem:)
 
Marriage by Gregory Corso
Should I get married? Should I be good?
Astound the girl next door with my velvet suit and faustus hood?
Don’t take her to movies but to cemeteries
tell all about werewolf bathtubs and forked clarinets
then desire her and kiss her and all the preliminaries
and she going just so far and I understanding why
not getting angry saying You must feel! It’s beautiful to feel!
Instead take her in my arms lean against an old crooked tombstone
and woo her the entire night the constellations in the sky-When she introduces me to her parents
back straightened, hair finally combed, strangled by a tie,
should I sit with my knees together on their 3rd degree sofa
and not ask Where’s the bathroom?
How else to feel other than I am,
often thinking Flash Gordon soap-
O how terrible it must be for a young man
seated before a family and the family thinking
We never saw him before! He wants our Mary Lou!
After tea and homemade cookies they ask What do you do for a living?Should I tell them? Would they like me then?
Say All right get married, we’re losing a daughter
but we’re gaining a son-
And should I then ask Where’s the bathroom?O God, and the wedding! All her family and her friends
and only a handful of mine all scroungy and bearded
just wait to get at the drinks and food-
And the priest! he looking at me as if I masturbated
asking me Do you take this woman for your lawful wedded wife?
And I trembling what to say say Pie Glue!
I kiss the bride all those corny men slapping me on the back
She’s all yours, boy! Ha-ha-ha!
And in their eyes you could see some obscene honeymoon going on-
Then all that absurd rice and clanky cans and shoes
Niagara Falls! Hordes of us! Husbands! Wives! Flowers! Chocolates!
All streaming into cozy hotels
All going to do the same thing tonight
The indifferent clerk he knowing what was going to happen
The lobby zombies they knowing what
The whistling elevator man he knowing
Everybody knowing! I’d almost be inclined not to do anything!
Stay up all night! Stare that hotel clerk in the eye!
Screaming: I deny honeymoon! I deny honeymoon!
running rampant into those almost climactic suites
yelling Radio belly! Cat shovel!
O I’d live in Niagara forever! in a dark cave beneath the Falls
I’d sit there the Mad Honeymooner
devising ways to break marriages, a scourge of bigamy
a saint of divorce- But I should get married I should be good
How nice it’d be to come home to her
and sit by the fireplace and she in the kitchen
aproned young and lovely wanting my baby
and so happy about me she burns the roast beef
and comes crying to me and I get up from my big papa chair
saying Christmas teeth! Radiant brains! Apple deaf!
God what a husband I’d make! Yes, I should get married!
So much to do! Like sneaking into Mr Jones’ house late at night
and cover his golf clubs with 1920 Norwegian books
Like hanging a picture of Rimbaud on the lawnmower
like pasting Tannu Tuva postage stamps all over the picket fence
like when Mrs Kindhead comes to collect for the Community Chest
grab her and tell her There are unfavorable omens in the sky!
And when the mayor comes to get my vote tell him
When are you going to stop people killing whales!
And when the milkman comes leave him a note in the bottle
Penguin dust, bring me penguin dust, I want penguin dust-  
Yes if I should get married and it’s Connecticut and snow
and she gives birth to a child and I am sleepless, worn,
up for nights, head bowed against a quiet window, the past behind me,
finding myself in the most common of situations a trembling man
knowledged with responsibility not twig-smear nor Roman coin soup-
O what would that be like!
Surely I’d give it for a nipple a rubber Tacitus
For a rattle a bag of broken Bach records
Tack Della Francesca all over its crib
Sew the Greek alphabet on its bib
And build for its playpen a roofless Parthenon  
No, I doubt I’d be that kind of father
Not rural not snow no quiet window
but hot smelly tight New York City
seven flights up, roaches and rats in the walls
a fat Reichian wife screeching over potatoes Get a job!
And five nose running brats in love with Batman
And the neighbors all toothless and dry haired
like those hag masses of the 18th century
all wanting to come in and watch TV
The landlord wants his rent
Grocery store Blue Cross Gas & Electric Knights of Columbus
impossible to lie back and dream Telephone snow, ghost parking-
No! I should not get married! I should never get married!
But-imagine if I were married to a beautiful sophisticated woman
tall and pale wearing an elegant black dress and long black gloves
holding a cigarette holder in one hand and a highball in the other
and we lived high up in a penthouse with a huge window
from which we could see all of New York and even farther on clearer days
No, can’t imagine myself married to that pleasant prison dream-  
O but what about love? I forget love
not that I am incapable of love
It’s just that I see love as odd as wearing shoes-
I never wanted to marry a girl who was like my mother
And Ingrid Bergman was always impossible
And there’s maybe a girl now but she’s already married
And I don’t like men and-
But there’s got to be somebody!
Because what if I’m 60 years old and not married,
all alone in a furnished room with pee stains on my underwear
and everybody else is married! All the universe married but me!  

Ah, yet well I know that were a woman possible as I am possible
Then marriage would be possible-
Like SHE in her lonely alien gaud waiting her Egyptian lover
So I wait-bereft of 2,000 years and the bath of life.  

Poem from here , image here and other famous poems and poets

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17 Responses to “Love in the Penguin Dust”

  1. That’s a great poem. I especially love the last verse. Perhaps the penguin dust is the remains of his penguin suit that he got married in?

  2. Hheh that’s probably IT Kirsty! The penguin dust are probably moths really:) poetic licence to be dramatic – typical poet eh 🙂

  3. I think this guy worries an awful lot or something. Did he ever hear of the phrase of looking at your glass half full rather than half empty? He is exhausting! I have no idea what penguin dust is. Especially with the milk man delivering it. I did laugh, however, so I thank you for posting it, Lynda. 🙂

    • He’s defintiely a glass half empty kind of guy Leslie 🙂 We have a saying too ‘having your cake and eating it’ meaning having the best of both worlds, but he doesn’t seem to fit that one – he seems in two worlds, the pessimistic one winning:) Yes, good point, the milkman sounds very suspicious….I wonder if it’s drugs he delivers? Glad you liked it:)

      • That is what I thought, Lynda, was slang for drugs of that era. I even searched penguin dust and all I found was more reference to this poem, so not slang for drugs. He was clever enough to befuddle us and keep us interested wasn’t he? The milkman, now there’s a thought!

      • MMmmm the milkman threw me off too Leslie. Even Hubby thinks the penguin is the wedding suit, BUT if that is the case was is the dust? confetti?….again what has the milkman got to with confetti?
        What a conundrum eh 🙂

  4. jadepaloma Says:

    Great! This totally made my day! :-))))))))))))))

  5. I love how he talks his way out of it jadepaloma 🙂 When I first saw the poem, I only saw up to roman coin soup and thought that was it…:)
    I love his confusion, a bit like Lionel Bart’s Fagin (Oliver the musical) when he”s singing ‘Reviewing the situation’ Glad you enjoyed it:)

  6. jadepaloma Says:

    BTW I’m still waiting for my questions 😉

  7. eh? I sent this two days ago – wondered why you haven’t replied lol! will send it again 🙂

  8. I had a Penguin selection of The Beat Poets when I was a teenager and this was one of my favourites – I used to know quite a lot of it off by heart, so coming across it on your blog brought back memories for me. I especially like the beginning and this line near the end
    “Ah, yet well I know that were a woman possible as I am possible
    Then marriage would be possible-”
    Great stuff. I also like Allen Ginsberg’s ‘America’ which was in the same collection – both of them are great for reading aloud.

  9. Oh lovely Judy! That Alan Ginsberg is something else. At least they FELT things in those days. It’s now not cool to feel….

    The questions and the fooling and confusion are still the same but
    It’s now uncool to voice your insecurities..
    Being an old Hippie (well, that’s torn it)..I ‘m well primed in a lot of art media BUT there is so much that I am dsicovering (and happy:) about these poets
    Thank you for visiting:)

  10. hi lynda,

    thanks for posting this beat poem. i love the way the words are woven into the fast and exhausting roll of reasons why the man desn’t want to get married. there are missing clues that will keep you wondering what did he mean by that. but don’t you think the mystery has this catch in all poetry, even me, myself, sometimes do that in my poetry.

    all the best

    • Yes, I enjoy the ‘catch’ Marvin, I wish I could do more of it in my poetry 🙂 This beat poetry really does have a beat to it and a rythym that nakes it flow effortlessy. But I wonder if it’s written spontaneously or well worked out? Good poem regardless. Glad you enjoyed it Marvin – thanks for visiting!

  11. Megan St. Clair Says:

    I as well love this poem! This and Ginsberg’s Sunflower Sutra are my favorite Beat poems. In fact if this poem were read aloud in an attempt to woo, I would totally swoon!
    Two things: I do not think that Corso is a ‘glass-half empty’ kind of guy. just logical. He continues to play out possibilities with each stanza to the extreme and then comes back to a renewed hope for the idea of marriage. Plus, with the ending, he doesn’t give up on the idea of marriage he just says that he’ll wait for the right person to come along even if it takes 2,000 years and the wait will be worth it: “I know that were a woman possible as i am possible/ then marriage would be possible–”
    Penguin dust: It does sound like slang for a kind of drug and yes it may have to do with a tux (but I think that’s a big stretch because there is no other mention of one or the weeding day in that stanza), but either way it’s not MILK. He’s asking the milkman to bring him something other than milk and to do so is unconventional and the unconventional is constantly brought into the socially norm of the poem. I think he is realizing through his extreme fantasies that he is not willing to fit into a social norm.

  12. Yes, I quite like the way the poet weighs up the pro’s and con’s of marriage. He’s wary – but with a willingness to believe. It reminds me of Fagin in Lionel Bart’s ‘Oliver!’ musical. The song is ‘Reivewing the Situation’. It’s where Fagin talks himself out of taking a wife, instead of talking himself into it. Fagin’s main fears, being a miser, are the financial aspects – whereas Ginsberg sees wider, further and more imaginatively.

    The penguin dust has puzzled me greatly and I think you could be right in thinking he is asking for the exotic – something out of the norm. I don’t know anything about Ginsberg’s personal life, but I wonder if he found what he was looking/unlooking for?
    Great comment Megan! and I thank you for it 🙂

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