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James Kimbrell


Up Late, Reading Whitman


whose soul was like a spider, but was also like the grass,
and the meteor, and the beach at night, and I

would be honored if my soul was like the neighbor's dog
who tunneled beneath his fence today, black-eyed,

wagging, unclipped toenails clicking on the sidewalk,
all thick tail and barrel chest and neck fat, searching

the hedges for the scent of foe, the site of relief,
for a long-lost loping collie he might have known once

when the day was all sun, and the eternal tennis ball
barely touched the high grass, and the squirrels

couldn't help but admire his splendor,
for happily did he slobber on the sneaker and the hand!



My sister who is a young girl again
brings Walt Whitman to the party in the back of the house.


She is so proud. She has kidnapped
the poet and brought him to me — he keeps snapping his fingers,


he still believes he's at the docks.
He walks to the mantle and picks up a trumpet and turns to me.


"You know the song of the soul?" he asks.
"Right," I say, and we step out to the porch where my parents


are sitting in lawn chairs,
and I play perfectly the first four notes of "La Vie en Rose,"


but no one is dancing. "Here give it to me,"
he says. "I fear you are hitting the notes of dream — your eyes


have been the same as closed
most of the time," and his cheeks puff out like old Satchmo's


and I'm happy as a bald-headed man
in a rainstorm of fedoras until the song is over and my parents


sit down and my sister runs up
and tugs on his beard. "But Walt," she says. "Your ride is here,"


and walks him out to the Brooklyn Ferry honking in the driveway.




Walt Whitman, when I opened your book again this morning I thought
           I saw a page slip out from between "A Promise to California,"
           and "A Leaf for Hand in Hand," but it was just the robust love
           of my neglected utility bill.
And yet, the way it fell, first gliding, catching the light from the east
           window, then end over end, it almost made me want to write
           a check for all that I have left unpaid.
Because a body has to pay the bills, and loves to walk to the store
           in winter and buy a newspaper and stamps for later
           and a coffee for now.
Because the soul is always looking around for its likeness in the limbs
           arching over the concrete, or in the specter of the yellow
           bicycle lying in the snow, or in the eyes of the woman
           at the register whose name tag says "Mary Shelley," though she
           does not know the other Mary Shelley, and certainly claims no
           relation, though what body is not a relation?
Which is to say, Walt Whitman, lover of loitering horses, stenographer
           to the stars, that when I write my check for two hundred
           and some odd dollars, and I lick the dry envelope, my tongue
           on the paper will make a sound not unlike a shoe pressing
           into snow.
A body and a soul.
Body licks the envelope.
                                     Soul walks quietly across the white field




and knocks on my door and hands me a pamphlet in which all
the letters are O's.


When I invite my soul in he runs his hand along the walls
to check for hidden mirrors.


He squints his eyes at me as if to tell my fortune: "Weren't you
wearing that shirt eight years ago?"


When I ask my soul if he is the alpha or the omega, dream or fact:
"Here's five bucks," he says. "You need a damn haircut"


He sits down, and I bring the tea and biscuits, a remedy for amnesia.
He talks about his life as the moon,


and as the dog for whom the moon is a bone in a distant stew.
He says he does not worry


where he will live after my breath is a bogus address. When I ask
what time his train departs,


he says, "The caboose's future is the engine's past"



To speak of the soul is to invite criticism:
Dear Criticism, your company is requested
at the home of Walt Whitman, cosmic bamboozler,
     revisionist of the grass; you, your lover,
          or husband, or wife, are warmly welcome;
     mechanics, southerners, new arrivals, your cousins,
          your complaints, fears, early memories, your lizards,
               your pot-bellied pigs, swearing parakeets,
          that gorilla that speaks sign language (KoKo?)
               your drunk friends, your grudges, your bad checks,
                    your motel matchbooks, your anima and animus,
               your spirit coyote, your dream logic and sepia
                    tinted photographs, all, all are welcome!



I walk over to help my octogenarian neighbor fill the hole
beneath the fence where his dog dug out; he hands me
a shovel and says "I'll put in a wood fence next spring,"
and adds, without a shred of self pity, "if I'm around
that long." Then he shapes his mouth into an O
and widens his eyes and holds his hands up in his best
impersonation of a ghost, a glad ghost, a laughing ghost
with his Labrador running around him in circles.
An old man living in the knowledge of his death,
of the hour approaching when he will leave his house,
and leave his workshop with its wall of ham radios,
and leave all the antennas sprouting like corn
along the edge of his roof, and the frequencies that pull
a million voices through the air.
                                             How not to think of you there,
Walt Whitman, spokesmodel for the universe, pamphleteer
of the snowflake and the cloud and the uncombed hair,
all of it an instance of soul — my neighbor and his dog
and the middle of the day and the gravel we shovel
before adding the dirt, and the dirt we tamp down lightly,
and the grass we place on top of that, grass that you loved,
exhibit "A" in the case for life everlasting, great-great-
grandchild of the grass from ages ago, grass which is
its own museum, which grows out of itself, then dies,
then grows again, in the ditch — the Lord's carpet,
by the railroad tracks — the loose cargo's landing strip,
grass in the cracks of the sidewalk, grass which is its own
sidewalk where the living and the dead step toward each other.
                                      -from My Psychic