Considering, Lingering Long: A Love Song to Walt Whitman | David B. Prather

Walt Whitman, in 1857. PC: Library of Congress

As I Ponder’d in Silence

There’s that one corner in the kitchen, you know it,
            where the cats like to linger

in blue shadows of evening and in oblong squares of afternoon
            sunlight.  Walt Whitman stands there

examining imperfections in the wall and dust on a sconce.
            He thinks I don’t see him,

but even a diaphanous Walt Whitman is heavy
            in this world, his presence betrayed

by the lazy drift of dust motes through his haunting
            appearance.  I never thought

I would be haunted like this, by loneliness, yes,
            by self-doubt, yes,

by a crushing lack of belief, yes, and yes, and yes.
            But here I am, leaning

against the counter, drinking my too sweet coffee,
            looking at the gray ghost of a man

who whispers into the unused spaces of this room
            where house spiders abandon

cobwebs in hard to reach angles, where pockets of darkness
            make themselves at home.

 If he weren’t an unexpected visitor, the day would be uneventful.
            He is quiet in his meditation, his quandary

of what he has become, of what the world has become,
            a cacophony quelled right here
                        in the stillness of this room.

From Pent-Up Aching Rivers

All life comes from water, ask any rainstorm.

One summer, I ran naked into a downpour

to feel the freshness of creation. This morning,

however, I am in the shower when Walt Whitman joins me.

Water cascades across the fullness of his chest,

drips from his wiry beard, glorifies his manhood and glistens

his legs.  He knows the controversy of his sexuality,

but he is unconcerned, as am I

while I thrust my hands through his hair and down his back

before we taste each other’s lyrics, our bodies singing

while the sun rushes through the window

thinking itself a god, watching us

enjoy the passion of running water.

I tell this hoary specter about the Ohio River

sludging past this town, unclean currents

cutting through the earth, making love

to loose leaves and sunken branches

as we stand here and the mirror clouds with steam.

Am I an incubus pulling this man from the past

into my wanton clutches?  Am I an unsatisfied lover

giving flesh to my desires?  I have this tremulous aching.

We will rise from the muddy banks

like souls, or angels, or birds of prey.

I Am He That Aches with Love

My father had a mistress,
                        a woman I can only imagine

since I only ever saw her shoulder
                        in the passenger seat of a Dodge Dart,

a boxy car now in a junk heap somewhere.
                        Whitman sits beside me,

an ashen ghost,
                        and he explains to me in verse

the laws of attraction,
                        that the moon cannot sway

without the earth, that the earth
                        cannot turn without the sun

that the sun cannot shine
                        without a burning heart.

Which is what I have,
                        a conflagration that pulls

everything closer, that causes
                        an updraft toward glory,

the clouds, the ether, the heavens,
                        the great star clusters

at the outer edges of the universe
                        where Walt and I will one day meet

with all the atoms of all the bodies
                        of every lover come and gone.

My father quit his lover
                        to keep his family.

Every attraction has its consequences.
                        A neutron star will pull and pull,

a force so strong
                        there is no such thing as resistance.

 I would tell my father
                        I forgive him.

            is such a funny thing.

Here the Frailest Leaves of Me

I pretend not to notice as Walt Whitman lies next to me.

The bed shifts with his weight, and he’s giving me a homoerotic look,

his eyes gone gray with twilight.

He smells of the musk of the man he was, this shameless apparition.

He interrupts my reading, pulls the book from my hands,

and tells me I am too insecure about my body,

that a little extra weight around my waist is a sign of good living,

a sign of a steadfast lover.  He pulls me close and tells me that

the four chambers of my heart are the homes for every love

I’ve every known.  And there I am, sobbing

in the arms of this barbaric man,

and I begin to suckle his nipple, the baby to his motherly instinct,

and the milk begins to flow, milk to soothe

the feeling that I disappoint my father, milk to heal

the wound of not becoming the man my mother expected.

I lean further into this sage until we are kissing,

our tongues slick with each other’s most intimate thoughts.

Then I look at him in the low light of the bedside lamp,

And I know all the things he never had in his life.

If ever the world had a lover, it is he.

Every plant, every bird, every ship gone out to sea.

That Shadow My Likeness

Morning, I think of the sun, how it has no shadow,
            no companion to follow its every move.

As I walk to the garden, I notice Walt Whitman
            has made himself my shadow, my shade upon the world.

He leans in close to the eggplant to examine
            the holes in the leaves, the larval bugs that live

on this nightshade.  He loves them all.
            Then he checks the tomato vines,

the acrid smell of their leaves rubbing off and clinging
            to his arms, his legs, his buttocks and groin.

I think he likes this little game, attaching himself to my body,
            each piece of me standing for each piece of him.

I think he likes being out in the world again
            listening to thrush and finch, to motors and mayhem,

to the hum of electric lines, to the rhythm
            of footsteps on the sidewalk,

to the baseball game in the park, to lovers
            making sounds only lovers can make.

There is no shaking him loose.   But, at night,
            he rises up to the universe, my body his anchor

to all the loves he dare not leave behind.
            He tells me the sun is a lonely god, creating

what it cannot have, which is something
            that we cannot give.

Vigil Strange I Kept on the Field One Night

I had no idea that self-discovery would involve Walt Whitman,

but tonight there is no doubt the great gray bard sits with me

watching fireflies spark in the water maple

that has sunk its roots through pipes, into undrained soil

hundreds of yards in every direction, under us

as we look up to see the shadow of our world drift

out past the moon to god-knows-where.

He begins to weep, not for himself, but for me.  He tells me

I will miss all of this, the good solid ground beneath my feet,

the silky wind across my bare chest, the song of blood in my veins.

Sing, he says.  Sing for apples still green on the tree.

Sing for bean blossoms filling the vine.

Sing for birdsong rising just before dawn.

A patchy fog sinks into the neighborhood, and we begin

to drift in conversation.  He tells me of his many loves.

I tell him such things I will not reveal to you.

Yes, I know you are there.

Morning comes quickly.  Ghosts rise with mist.

Let us go to the place where we first met

to talk through the strange hardship of day,

to sing vigil for the fragile touch of night.

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