March 26, 2010

Why Walt Whitman Wins!

"Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes."

You know, in High School, when I first was assigned to read selections from Walt's poetic opus, Leaves of Grass, I found myself confused and slightly turned off. Who was this Old Man from an Old Time using Old Words and what could it possibly have to do with my life as an awkward teen in Dallas, Texas full of romantic notions of Bukowski and Brautigan, Kerouac and Ginsberg? My ear attunded to the sound of fear, the sound of desperation -- beat, punk, down.

"Mr. Williams, sir, what do you hope will happen when I read this man's words," I asked.
"Something profound...."

It still resonates in my ear. Mr. Williams, my sophomore English Teacher, was like a god to me. This man took me and turned me inside out, causing my eyes to be filled with worlds I had never dreamed of in my quest for depravity. If Mr. Williams told me it was going to be profound, then I had to believe him.

And your very flesh shall be a great poem.

What is it about Walt that makes me float above all my self-doubt, all my self-destruction, all my self-loathing? Walt uses the large words, the transcendent words. He makes you understand that the insignificant, the maimed, the downtrodden, the eagles, the ants, the leaves of grass are all part of the greatness that is creation. As we connect, we expand and fill the void. You can hear it in every word he drops on to the page.

I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars.

When I turned 40 I had every intention of tattooing Walt's words on my body. Money kept me from making it permanent, so I drew the following on my forearm with a black Bic pen (it is #52):

The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me, he complains of my gab and my loitering.
I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.
The last scud of day holds back for me,
It flings my likeness after the rest and true as any on the shadow'd wilds,
It coaxes me to the vapor and the dusk.
I depart as air, I shake my white locks at the runaway sun,
I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags.
I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
if you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.
You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.
Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.

See what I mean... Everytime I speak it or read it or type as just now, I fall. And as I fall I am caught on waves of wind lifting me as I collapse upon my self.

I have a picture of Walt in my office. When the kids come in to talk to me, or they have been sent to talk to me, Walt looks them all in the eye before they begin. I wonder if they connect with him as I do?

I try to talk softly when I talk to myself outloud. It puts everyone else in a more comfortable position.

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