The lost America of love

Whitman005

Where are we going, Walt Whitman?  The doors close in an hour.  Which way does your beard point tonight?

Allen Ginsberg, A Supermarket in California

I too saw Walt Whitman buying groceries:
Cabbage and a soup-bone and a little whiskey.

Seventy years later he’d have stayed with us in Paris
Not thinking our lifestyle particularly outré.
A hundred years later he’d have joined
In detesting that son of a bitch McCarthy
After it was fashionable but before it was safe,
And in a few more years he too would have been expelled for crazy
And come along when we hitched to San Francisco
And ended up joining a band that needed a bongo player.
A hundred and fifty years on, there he was on the tv,
Wondering why America still won’t talk about Vietnam.
And shortly thereafter, having stripped naked
And waded in up to his milkwhite thighs
Stood in the warm shallows and boldly declaimed
What, until he spoke, we never knew we had known all along.

I tell you I saw that good, gray poet
Put one cabbage in his basket
And hide another underneath his coat,
Dreaming for all of us of the day
When the commonplace would be the fantastic.

 

 

Image: Walt Whitman, portrait by unknown photographer (but probably Gabriel Harrison), ca. 1854. This image is unprotected by copyright in the United States, due to its advanced age.

The title (and, I suppose, the context) is from Allen Ginsberg’s poem A Supermarket in California, which begins: “What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman…”

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