Wednesday, May 27, 2009

for walt whitman

for walt whitman

know'st thou not there is but one theme
for ever-enduring bards?

was it the slender wild oat or the purple
needle grass or perhaps another group of
monocots excelling at spreading & colonizing
areas parched from too little rain; where
freezes were too long & cold, or areas
scorched by the fires of wars that were too
frequent; whose leaves have a disarming
sameness, whose flowers are tiny, but whose
breathy voices are loud & eloquent. america is
ideal grassland. was it the rustling, murmuring
song of leaves of grass that called out to u,
intrepid poet, teacher & volunteer nurse,
shaped yr long rhythmical lines of cadenced
verse, free of strict meter or rhyme, yet
recognizable as poetry by a nation that
absorbed u like a holy feast even when it
rebuked u as u, yrself rebuked the elevated
hero to give voice to the common man. u
reached out to me, poet, thru’ yr irregular
biblical cadence, recurring prurient phrasing
& syntactical patterns. u dared me to inhale
the fragrance of myself & a new freedom. but
i was afraid; too young, perhaps, for yr
grown-up stanzas, to listen to the song of
green & dry leaves, to stay with u night & day
to absorb the meanings of yr poems. i ran
from yr poetry like one suddenly aware of his
nakedness in a laughing, mocking crowd. &
yet like the proverbial moth to seductive
flame i kept coming back, hoping to reach
into yr verse & take a little from u without
getting burned. but even a little was too much –-
heads athwart hips & tongues plunging into
bare-stript hearts -- the love in yr poems was
an overbearing entity. it was one thing to self-
pleasure in my poems, to feign to expose
myself, to attract a voyeur’s attention with an
open display "private parts" –- to even couch
spirit in shocking eroticism, but quite another
to look upon my own naked sexuality. i had to
penetrate the mirror of my fear & likewise
plunge into yr imagery, come what may; look
upon yr undressed sensual figures free of
gender prescriptions, yr unadulterated man-
love & the tumults that change grace into
wantonness before i realized with breath-
expelling relief that i was not physically
aroused; that the only thing tumescent about
me, in me, was an ever growing insight, a
penetrating mental vision, that love in all of
its forms like a girder fastened above &
parallel to the keel of one of yr beloved ships
strengthens creation. the broken shards of fear
dropped away & crashed to the floor. i was
awestruck by the expanse of yr vision &
wondered if i would ever be able to poet like
that; if i would ever celebrate & sing myself –-
i who had not yet seen the horrors of war or
the predations of pandemics or lost a loved
one, or reached the place i must reach to admit
that i was powerless over everything. could i
ever hear the leaves of grass & like u, witness,
wait & write?

© Joseph McNair; 2009

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