Thursday, May 14, 2009

Walt Whitman's Fly

For John Logan

"Get the gasworks into a poem,
and you've got the smoke and smokestacks,
the mottled red and yellow tenements,
and grimy kids who curse with the pungency
of the odor of gas. You've got America, boy."

David Ignatow

Get the gasworks into a poem
and you've got Walt Whitman.
Walt --
with the sun at your left side
and death at your right you in
the middle like a daguerrotype
I remember you
your baggy buchaneer pants
hiding saucy pirates
with real-live locomotives and steam underneath
the beat-up breath of tenements.
What a smokestack you were!
your fly that became a rose in my
hand your hips haughty & the starjuice I
catch from your eyes the flaring nostrils
the quaker chin the illuminations in every line
I approach you with this poem in my hand &
a warm welcome.
I know you had a gray beard how could it be any different?
as I sit here dreaming of some manly cloud typing up
state requisitions
for the Maintenance Office maintenant! punching the
clock no body electric
your time shining on my eyelids one of the roughs.
your flashing armpits are like traffic lights and the
deep crimson thrill
that comes over me when I ride the subway convinced
of a new religion
& you in the corner (no caboose) with your hand on
your right hip trans-
parent -- like some lonely poe-ship you created
with decks of sailors holding other hands. I imagine your
armpits to be a japanese rain-forest your smell that
prayer the saneness of your death.
my death.
I look for you over my shoulder
I look for your cheekbones behind el gray
I know you hid the gasworks somewhere
the secret of your sad orb over the rooftops
curious dream of factories your modern man behind tele-
visions 'yessuh
you got the world by the rear---'
and hindisght which was foresight
I look back on you because you look'd forward to me
& there is no stone untouch'd, Walt Whitman,
can I hold you to your promise?
will I find you on the CP Rail
on a long white train through Canada
behind those camerado Rockies?
Can I sneak up behind you on th'astral plane?
will you always be behind me like the Great Spirit
on the Staten Island Ferry?
I itch for you, you crazy sun-
I unbutton your shirt & find leaves
Yes! growing on your chest
I wear my spanish cowboy hat 'the Shadow' &
dance like a red bandana the wind my voice
wrestles prophetic with every telephone pole I can
find like a bloody angel or viola or joan of arc
medea sans jason or any jacobean forget-me-not.
cheek to cheek, Walt Whitman, I have to build
your bridge
will you settle for my hands?

By Jayne Lyn Stahl
published 1973 -- "Audit," all rights reserved