Friday, May 29, 2009

"Walt Whitman's Hands" (1982)

I have the honor of being born on the same day as Walt Whitman. This weekend marks the 190th birthday of Whitman (and I turn 57 -- a long way to go). A few poetic words seemed in order; here are some from 1982, when I was a mere wordsmith of 30. The poem remains unpublished until now.

Walt Whitman's Hands
M. Bromberg, 1982

This is the land Walt Whitman made

with his own hands, roughly and eagerly.

He built his cities of strongest iron,

yet with a tinker's eye and economy.

These mountains are his gentle mountains,

their soft curves a woman's reclining mood

or as a soldier's ease, at rest.

He saw stands of pine, straight and green,

saw locomotives crossing flatbed West.

His hands were no poet's alabaster,

writing odes to king or cunning dark.

His lines were sinew, flesh and blood

were in them, a surprising human spark.

His was the telegraph, the railroad, the prairie open wide,

and a people with marvelous ambition.

Prairie farmer or city dweller he loved them both;

and above them all, stars to fill the canopy of heaven.

When Whitman prayed he prayed to God and Man.

They were equals. No War was just

where sons and fathers died as one, and who,

beseeching God with each failing breath,

hailed death as their priceless victory. He cried.

The ground bled, the ground shook

where brother and brother were laid aside.

No War nor wounding sorrow

could stop a nation's building, or stay

the stars from turning in their courses.

Now the young men Whitman would embrace,

each one, are buried under stone,

joined once more in a last great confederacy,

their names both known and unknown.

They are at rest in Gettysburg,

and in Elmira's quiet fields;

the places where they died are fair again

with grasses soft, and in truth revealed.

This is the land Walt Whitman made.

There is ground still wet with morning dew

and cities as real as stalks of wheat,

their towers topped where the skies are still blue.

The poet's mark is on the mountains,

his voice is with us yet.

His land is ours, the land endures:

it is our strength, and his testament.

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