We Will Surely Awake

Vote!

“You wouldn’t let your grandparents pick your playlist. Why would you let them pick your representative who’s going to determine your future?” 

Barack Obama


 I don’t know if my individual vote changes anything, other than it makes me feel better.  I feel better by the act of picking candidates who are more aligned with my beliefs and hopeful they will prevail.  I believe today’s election is the first step on a path to a better future and by doing my civic duty and voting I have helped be part of that first step.  The good thing about democracy and voting is at least you can hope things will change.   

I know that on any typical day two-thirds of the approximately 200 people that visit Fourteen Lines are not Americans.  The majority of the people that might read this are not personally invested in this election, regardless of its outcome. I wonder how American politics must appear to the rest of the world?  Do you find this as bewildering as we do, the rhetoric so out of balance from our day to day lives?

I expect we will not know the outcome of this election for a while. I don’t anticipate that I will wake up tomorrow and the rhetoric will be less volatile, less divisive.  Instead I anticipate  that the specter of disunity might in the short term heighten, not lessen. But I remain hopeful that someday we will awaken to a calmer day with new leadership that views power as an obligation to not obscure the truth in search of political expediency.  A President that talks honestly about difficult nuanced subjects so that we can deal with seemingly intractable problems through compromise.  A day when Senators and Congressman on both sides of the isle believe in coalition building, on seeking agreement on common ground and see that process as not a failure in political strategy but as a moral obligation of principled leadership. Let’s pray today is the start of something new, something better.  But given that Whitman was writing about waking up 170 years ago from the political malaise of his era, its fair to ask whether I should really expect change from politicians or like my vote, only hold myself accountable for change? 


To the States

By Walt Whitman

To Identify the 16th, 17th, or 18th Presidentiad.

Why reclining, interrogating? why myself and all drowsing?
What deepening twilight—scum floating atop of the waters,
Who are they as bats and night-dogs askant in the capitol?
What a filthy Presidentiad! (O South, your torrid suns! O North, your artic freezings!)
Are those really Congressman?  are those the great Judges?  Is that the President?
Then I will sleep awhile yet, for I see that these States sleep, for reasons
(With gathering murk, with muttering thunder and lambent shoots we all duly awake,
South, North, East, West, inland and seaboard, we will surely awake.)


Poem in the American Manner

by Dorothy Parker

I dunno yer highfalutin’ words, but here’s th’ way it seems
When I’m peekin’ out th’ winder o’ my little House o Dreams;
I’ve been lookin’ ‘roun’ this big ol’ world, as bizzy as a hive,
An’ I want t’ tell ye, neighbor mine, it’s good t’ be alive.
I’ve ben settin’ here, a-thinkin’ hard, an’ say, it seems t’ me
That this big ol’ world is jest about as good as it kin be,
With its starvin’ little babies, an’ its battles, an’ its strikes,
An’ its profiteers, an’ hold-up men—th’ dawggone little tykes!
An’ its hungry men that fought fer us, that nobody employs.
An’ I think, “Why, shucks, we’re jest a lot o’ grown-up little boys!”
An’ I settle back, an’ light my pipe, an’ reach fer Mother’s hand,
An’ I wouldn’t swap my peace o’ mind fer nothin’ in the land;
Fer this world uv ours, that jest was made fer folks like me an’ you
Is a purty good ol’ place t’ live—say, neighbor, ain’t it true

Whoever You Are, Holding Me Now

Quesada
Ruben Quesada

 

Matthew 5:4

by Ruben Quesada

Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.

Take me. Take this. My wasted life and all
its bliss—the sea of your waking body

dawning with its warm grip on night’s wrist.
Your lips once curled into me. Your eyes

set me loose in a foggy lake. Loons call
to fill my deadened heart. To know

what loss is like you must lose everything,
you must lose even yourself, you said.

I am alone. Each night I lie and learn
to sing the dead back to life. Only they

can see what has been taken from me.
You are the bloodied cracks in my skin

so deep; I keep my hands together to hold
you in. Hear the damned prayers I reap.


Among the chaos of the 24/7 news cycle this week was this little gem: the 3M corporation raised a rainbow flag to honor Pride on Wednesday at their corporate headquarters in St. Paul, Minnesota.  If we are looking for small signs of change on how we treat each other as humans across the entire spectrum of our diversity it may seem a bit trivial, but it was in my mind none the less significant.  That the flag will hang there for less a week is not important.  This small step is not something that would have happened 5 years ago.  It sometimes takes pain to foster change and healing.  3M is in the spotlight for providing masks to the world to protect ourselves during the pandemic and with the Twin Cities metro area in the global headlines for the wrong reasons, George Floyd’s murder, it is reassuring to see one of our corporate citizens do the right thing, take a risk and acknowledge in a public way the contributions of its LGBT scientists, employees and customers.   It is a modest milestone that should be saluted.

Today’s poems are excellent examples of why not to read poetry literally.  When I read the poem below it is obvious its about how readers take his poetry into their conscious and subconscious.  How Whitman’s words are the essence of his best self.  How poetry is sublime in ways that can cross metaphysical boundaries, but in the end, no matter how conjoined you become with a poet’s words, Whitman commands his independence and asks you, the reader to do the same.  Even if you have been intimately moved and changed by what you have read and considered, you stand apart from the poet.  Poetry can be a penultimate act of intimacy between two human beings but it remains personal in what we give and take as writer and as reader.  Poetry in my opinion is procreation with our own souls. It is part of what I would consider  essential living, the fulfillment of an exciting, passionate and considered life, whether writing it or reading it.

Another milestone this week:  John Prine hit the charts with his first Billboard #1 hit with the last song he recorded before his death called I Remember Everything.   He recorded it in his hotel room in London while under quarantine during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. Sadly isolation wasn’t enough and this insidious virus took his life. Prine’s song writing has always been a source of solace and inspiration to me.  I smile that he is going out on top.  Enjoy.   

 


Whoever You Are Holding Me Now In Hand

by Walt Whitman

Whoever you are holding me now in hand,
Without one thing all will be useless,
I give you fair warning before you attempt me further,
I am not what you supposed, but far different.

Who is he that would become my follower?
Who would sign himself a candidate for my affections?

The way is suspicious, the result uncertain, perhaps destructive,
You would have to give up all else, I alone would expect to be your sole and exclusive standard,
Your novitiate would even then be long and exhausting,
The whole past theory of your life and all conformity to the lives around you would have to be abandon’d,
Therefore release me now before troubling yourself any further, let go your hand from my shoulders,
Put me down and depart on your way.

Or else by stealth in some wood for trial,
Or back of a rock in the open air,
(For in any roof’d room of a house I emerge not, nor in company,
And in libraries I lie as one dumb, a gawk, or unborn, or dead,)
But just possibly with you on a high hill, first watching lest any person for miles around approach unawares,
Or possibly with you sailing at sea, or on the beach of the sea or some quiet island,
Here to put your lips upon mine I permit you,
With the comrade’s long-dwelling kiss or the new husband’s kiss,
For I am the new husband and I am the comrade.

Or if you will, thrusting me beneath your clothing,
Where I may feel the throbs of your heart or rest upon your hip,
Carry me when you go forth over land or sea;
For thus merely touching you is enough, is best,
And thus touching you would I silently sleep and be carried eternally.

But these leaves conning you con at peril,
For these leaves and me you will not understand,
They will elude you at first and still more afterward, I will certainly elude you,
Even while you should think you had unquestionably caught me, behold!
Already you see I have escaped from you.

For it is not for what I have put into it that I have written this book,
Nor is it by reading it you will acquire it,
Nor do those know me best who admire me and vauntingly praise me,
Nor will the candidates for my love (unless at most a very few) prove victorious,
Nor will my poems do good only, they will do just as much evil, perhaps more,
For all is useless without that which you may guess at many times and not hit, that which I hinted at;

Therefore release me and depart on your way.

The Fatal Flash Catastrophe of Being

Walt Whitman
Walt Whitman

The Indications (Excerpt)

By Walt Whitman

The words of the true poems give you more than poems,
They give you to form for yourself, poems, religions, politics, war, peace, behavior, histories, essays, romances, and everything else,
The balance ranks, colors, races, creeds, and the sexes,
They do not seek beauty-they are sought,
Forever touching them, or close upon them, follows beauty, longing, fain, love-sick.

They prepare for death-yet are they not the finish, but rather the outset,
They bring none to his or her terminus, or to be content and full;
Whom they take, they take into space, to behold the birth of stars, to learn one of the meanings,
To launch off with absolute faith-to sweep through the ceaseless rings, and never be quiet again.


Poet

by Oscar Williams

He sees the world, a trek of values, ply
Its trade of waysides to a common view;
The sun and moon are blinkers to his eye;
That head on wisdom’s shoulders is askew
From watching dread dimensions crossroads lock,
Collision of directions so intense
The hands and face slip from the circled clock,
The atoms statue melts the niche of sense.

Aye, root and flower swordplay in his rhyme
And judgments parry their high blades of light –
The lightning from the bush of thunder fleeing
Kindles a home of symbols with the height –
And in his song is etched the blanch of time,
The fatal flash catastrophe of being.

 

 

Full Of Life, Now.

walt-whitman
Walt Whitman (1819 – 1892)

FULL OF LIFE, NOW.

by Walt Whitman

FULL of life, now, compact, visible,
I, forty years old the Eighty-third Year of The States,
To one a century hence, or any number of centuries
hence,
To you, yet unborn, these seeking you.

When you read these, I, that was visible, am become
invisible;
Now it is you, compact, visible, realizing my poems,
seeking me;
Fancying how happy you (are), if I could be with you,
and become your loving comrade;
Be it, as if I were with you. Be not too certain, but I
am now with you.


I admit that I deleted my first commentary on this blog post.  In rereading, it felt ponderous and overbearing.   Maybe the trick to discussing eternity is brevity?

The upshot of what I was trying to say is simply this:  All creative acts are in of themselves a type of eternal life and resurrection for their creator.   Their creativity takes its own trajectory once it comes into the world.   Whitman’s poems and particularly Song of Myself have always felt to me like his gospel, his new testament.   Full of Life, Now is Whitman’s call to worship and Song of Myself his parables and benediction.

Song of Myself is a daunting poem, hard to wade through and unpack because of its ferocity.  But there are poignant passages of respite contained within for me, where my fullness of understanding is complete and those passages of clarity bring light to the whole of it.

The ending of Song of Myself I consider to be one of the greatest achievements in American Literature, an unfettered acceptance of life and death as ever I have read.

Do I contradict myself?  Well then, I contradict myself. That’s poetry’s genius.


Song of Myself (Excerpt)

by Walt Whitman

51

The past and present wilt—I have fill’d them, emptied them,
And proceed to fill my next fold of the future.
Listener up there! what have you to confide to me?
Look in my face while I snuff the sidle of evening,
(Talk honestly, no one else hears you, and I stay only a minute longer.)

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

I concentrate toward them that are nigh, I wait on the door-slab.
Who has done his day’s work? who will soonest be through with his supper?
Who wishes to walk with me?

Will you speak before I am gone? will you prove already too late?

52

The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me, he complains of my gab and my loitering.
I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.

The last scud of day holds back for me,
It flings my likeness after the rest and true as any on the shadow’d wilds,
It coaxes me to the vapor and the dusk.

I depart as air, I shake my white locks at the runaway sun,
I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags.

I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.

You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.

Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.

Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself” from Leaves of Grass (: Norton, 1973)