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
be honored if my soul was like the neighbor's dog
who tunneled beneath his fence today, black-eyed,
unclipped toenails clicking on the sidewalk,
all thick tail and barrel chest and neck fat, searching
for the scent of foe, the site of relief,
for a long-lost loping collie he might have known once
day was all sun, and the eternal tennis ball
barely touched the high grass, and the squirrels
couldn't help but admire his
for happily did he slobber on the sneaker and the hand!
who is a young girl again
brings Walt Whitman to the party in the back of the house.
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.
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
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,"
"A Leaf for Hand in Hand," but it was just the robust love
my neglected utility bill.
And yet, the way it fell, first gliding, catching the light from the east
then end over end, it almost made me want to write
check for all that I have left unpaid.
Because a body has to pay the bills, and loves to walk to the store
winter and buy a newspaper and stamps for later
a coffee for now.
Because the soul is always looking around for its likeness in the limbs
over the concrete, or in the specter of the yellow
lying in the snow, or in the eyes of the woman
the register whose name tag says "Mary Shelley," though she
not know the other Mary Shelley, and certainly claims no
though what body is not a relation?
Which is to say, Walt Whitman, lover of loitering horses, stenographer
the stars, that when I write my check for two hundred
some odd dollars, and I lick the dry envelope, my tongue
the paper will make a sound not unlike a shoe pressing
A body and a soul.
Body licks the envelope.
walks quietly across the white field
and knocks on my door and hands me a pamphlet in which all
letters are O's.
When I invite my soul in he runs his hand along the
to check for hidden mirrors.
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"
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.
says he does not worry
where he will live after my breath is a bogus address.
When I ask
what time his train departs,
says, "The caboose's future is the engine's past"
To speak of the soul is to invite criticism:
Dear Criticism, your company
at the home of Walt Whitman, cosmic bamboozler,
of the grass; you, your lover,
or husband, or wife, are
mechanics, southerners, new arrivals, your cousins,
complaints, fears, early memories, your lizards,
pot-bellied pigs, swearing parakeets,
that gorilla that
speaks sign language (KoKo?)
drunk friends, your grudges, your bad checks,
motel matchbooks, your anima and animus,
spirit coyote, your dream logic and sepia
photographs, all, all are welcome!
I walk over to help my octogenarian neighbor fill the hole
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
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
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