Friday, August 11, 2006

To Walt Whitman in Heaven

Things that look good and aren't: high fashion,
Manifest Destiny, limp wires the electrician thinks
are dead till he grabs hold and then, O Infinite—
coursing-through-finite—thank God his spastic dance

is only a shock—one yelp and he shakes
it off. Not so easy for the girl next door
feeling her first kiss begin to fester
as the young man's buddies drive by hooting

and one calls out, how far did ya get? Whadda
we owe? It's enough to make everything
look bad. So, a list then of what turns out
to be good: the loud-mouthed parrot

down the block that scared off two robbers,
the junior prom I spent alone in my room
reading you, Walt Whitman, your great
barbaric yawp entering my mind like salt

water coursing through fresh, stinging my wounds,
till every image was sharp—the lunatic,
the lily-faced boy in the makeshift hospital,
contralto, runaway, cloud scud, your voice

whispering through sea spray to ferry crowds,
just as you feel, so I felt ... What doesn't change
and remain, remain and grow strange? The lace
bodice from my mother's slip my daughter

now sews onto the cuffs of her new jeans,
the crooked front tooth that has traveled through
how many kisses from my mother's mouth
to mine, and on to my son. What is a list?

The neighbor girl goes through her catalog
of moves under the hoop—sky hooks, lay-ups,
fall-away jumpers. Long after dark, she's out there
dribbling her heart on the asphalt, tossing it up,

nothing but net. Painful, yes, but how else
will she get to that sweet agony within,
your great loitering contradictions? She dodges
and spins, as if shedding a skin, steps around

the driveway to keep the motion light flaring
as she passes from shadow into Technicolor,
banks a shot, jabs the air to cheer herself on,
point guard, center and crowd all in one,

and I almost see you in the dark,
on the fringe, though I can hardly say what
you mean, in the sweet mysterious night vapor
hovering over blacktop and lamp-green lawn.

by Betsy Sholl from Late Psalm. © The University of Wisconsin Press.

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