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Whitman on the F

This poem is one that I’ve been half-remembering for several weeks now but couldn’t recall who it was by or what the name of it was. I happened to pick up the book that this poem was in while I was eating breakfast this morning and I thought I’d post it.

Just a note, I tried to maintain the formatting of the poem since I think he was trying to invoke Whitman in his style but I can’t figure out how to indent. So when you’re reading the place where the line breaks should be indented.

Whitman on the F

Crowded, morning F train from Brooklyn, a woman with mud-colored eyes
rises: cuneiform wrinkles appear

between her brows, as if her brain is squished up against the aquarium glass
of her forehead. Her lips move,

a voice so soft, we can only catch every third syllable…air…hel…ho…

The three-hours-of-sleep me yearns to whisper: louder next time lady,
as she limps past,

bare-palmed, but I’m too tired to crank down the mouth’s finicky drawbridge,
too drained to fiddle with

the combination lock attached to my wallet, so I sift through the mud
in her eyes, looking for a clue

of the life she left behind, before she started singing arias on the subway.
Over her right shoulder, I see

Walt Whitman wobble to his feet like an overflowing barrel of flesh
and beard and smile. “Here,

darling,” he wraps a white haired paw around the dandelion stem
of her spine. “Brothers and sisters,”

He bellows, “our little amaranth here needs some loving of the green
variety.” He stuffs a clump

of grass into the open mouth of her cup. Soon everyone in the car
has foliage out. he slides

a red wheelbarrow, glistening with raindrops, from under his seat, “here,”
he gleams, his teeth

ripe and white, like plums covered in snow. the poet in me hisses,
“good job, bonehead,

letting old graybeard beat you to the punch.” the big guy wedged beside me
grumbles under the mustard

canopy of his breath. “You ok?” I ask. “I hate when he does this,” he says,
thumbing at Old Walt,

“playing the jolly big shot, the vegetarian skyscraper, doing belly flops
into the spotlight,

Like his words are the organic cement, making us all one.” “Why’s
that bother you?” I ask.

“Me?” he scoffs, “I’m Walter Whitman, the human being. Can you imagine
sharing a soul

with that beast?” A smile ricochets between us. I exit the train at 42nd,
duck into a public restroom,

try, in vain, to wash Walt’s inky shadow off my fingers.

-Jeffrey McDaniel

~ by bcbottle on September 24, 2009.


4 Responses to “Whitman on the F”

  1. the vegetarian skyscraper=favorite line of poem.

    You read poetry at breakfast?! You’re awesome, Brendon.

    I need someone to help me think through this split self of Walter Whitman– the body and soul? human being and beast-angel? past and present?

    p.s. don’t get me started on formatting poems in blog space– it’s enough to drive me back to good old paper

  2. This is a great poem. So many dichotomies come up in our discussions of Whitman, and this is a pretty clever way of illustrating one of them. I particularly like McDaniel’s selective use Whitman’s style. Thanks for posting this!

  3. This is awesome! It reflects a lot of what we all struggle with in studying Whitman I think. Interesting that the poet decided to show Whitman having the same conflict within himself…

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