Tag Archives: Walt Whitman

#427: A Poem from Whitman’s “I Hear America Singing” on April 21, 2022

my school, again

I hear the American High School
singing, the varied carols I hear:
students sing their way
down the hallways and
into classrooms, where,
sometimes, they stop
singing, quiet, heads
down, depressed or
exhausted–other times
the singing never ceases
and their verses and choruses
percolate and resonate through
each 87 minute period.
I hear the teachers
sing their teaching voices,
singing their lessons
unceasingly, tirelessly,
mustering the energy
reserves to sing all the way
through to the end,
day after day, 180 of them,
year after year.
I hear the campus security
team, singing their
support and care for the
safety of everyone inside.
The cooks and the janitors,
doing what they can, their songs
keeping the people fed
and the building clean,
a deathless song without end.
I hear the singing of the entire
support staff, instructional assistants,
registrars, office secretaries,
couriers, all singing to keep
everything hanging together.
And I hear the principal singing,
juggling a dozen different songs,
sometimes singing the verse
from one after the chorus of
another, looking for the absolute
best tune from which to lead,
never completely satisfied,
always striving. All of them singing
in the American High School
through open mouths
their strong, melodious songs.

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A Journal of the Plague Year: #5

The day begins with session 10 of a guided meditation with Sam Harris. I’m not a huge fan of guided meditations, per se, because I feel while I’m meditating I don’t want somebody else’s voice in my head. But I am a fan of Sam Harris, so I figured, since he gifted me a free year’s subscription to Waking Up, that I’d live for awhile with Sam Harris’ voice in my head while I meditate. I’m learning some things. His guidance seems grounded to me, down to earth, less woo woo and more you you. In fact, that’s the thing I like best about him: there’s no woo woo.

RenĂ© and I take another long dog walk, our fifth in a row, I think. The dogs are so stupidly happy it’s not even funny.

Feeling rather spunky this morning, I turn to Whitman for the poem of the day. I land on the famous concluding section, #52, of “Song of Myself” from Leaves of Grass. 

As I am preparing to record a poetry recitation in the back yard, I pause for a mostly delightful conversation with my student-teacher about how we might possibly reconnect with our students and recreate something of a learning community again in the virtual world. We are hatching plans. Meanwhile, her guy, a union representative for nurses, is working 16 hour days during our time of the plague. We talked more about paradox.

I begin recording #52 with the distant rattle of my son practicing his rudimental drumming on a marching snare drum in the basement.  I attempt many takes before I get it right. I get some really funny ones during which, after the transcendent lines of Whitman, I botch a line and start to curse–the evidence of which I have deleted from my phone–which somewhat disappoints me now. It’s not every day you get to hear “I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world” followed by an F bomb.

My son comes outside! We play with dogs. We reminisce about the playhouse we finally took down, about sitting in there years ago under cover while a thunderstorm raged, and about badminton competitions in the front yard. All our rackets are broken. All the birdies are gone. We are inspired to walk to a sporting goods store for some new badminton supplies. We return with two new rackets and three birds.

We play badminton without a net, trying to set the back-and-forth record, a thing we haven’t done together for three years or better. We get to 20 and can never get beyond it, fighting the whole time against an uncooperative head-wind. I had the wind at my advantage, but in this kind of non-competitive match, the wind is at no one’s advantage.

I manage more effectively today to stay clear of the news, but in times like this it is mostly impossible, and maybe not desirable. I want to know if our Governor Brown would follow California’s suit, a “stay-in-place” order. Apparently she has not, but our numbers are still climbing. 114 cases in Oregon, four of which are in my county. There are 4,500 cases in New York City. Despite this perspective, we continue trying not to be afraid. My dreams have been strange. I am still out of whiskey.

As I put the finishing touches on this dispatch and attach my backyard Whitman video, I realize I have two problems: 1. some strange audio glitch over the “boot soles” line, and 2. an inexplicable deletion of half a second elsewhere, making that particular line incomprehensible. This will not do. I will begin again, and post late, post-haste.

Whitman is the antidote today, even though working with him has proved difficult. It wasn’t his fault. Please enjoy and forgive the lack of green in the backdrop of Leaves. Take care of yourselves and your loved ones. Help someone out who needs it. Sound your barbaric yawp.



Filed under Family, Parenting, Poetry, Reportage, Teaching, The Plague Year

#218: Long Lines for the 27th of the Month of April

England - English Summer Woods

Because the spring beats its rhythm in the head of the school kids anxious for the arrival of Summer break,

because teachers are either counting the days or trying to hold them back, having way too much shit to do and not nearly enough time to do it,

because there’s the promise of music blaring from the stereo inside so that it can be felt outside in the yard while the kids play frisbee,

because we can bring beach chairs to the zoo for outdoor concerts and fireworks displays that sound like warfare even though we’ve been trained not to think of it that way,

because the bbq comes out of its detention in the garage and will live on the front porch for the next five months where it will be fired up every other day,

because the mowers will be out polluting the neighborhood with their beautiful ugliness, the smell of gasoline mixed with cut grass in the air like a rose,

because the trailers will be hitched and pulled to their idyllic destinations on the coast or in the woods where the campfires burn and campers sip bourbon from plastic cups,

because all camp is in session, horse camp, trackers camp, sports camp, band camp and camp of all camp for you, Mr. Jarmer: writers camp,

because the bugs will be out in force having skated through a stupidly mild winter completely unscathed and ready to rock and roll,

because we welcome the heat even while it frightens us and kills our grass and burns our skin,

because we can see the stars, we say welcome summer, come summer, bring it on, baby.


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#25: The American Teenager Has A Theory About Walt Whitman


The American Teenager Has A Theory About Walt Whitman

Looking for inspiration for
his own portrait of the poet,
referencing a famous drawing
of Uncle Walt,
hand on his hip, in a gesture
of confidence, I’d say,
with a kind of challenging
and quizzical look in his
handsome, young face,
the boy says,
Was Walt Whitman gay?
And I say,
Well, now that you’ve
drawn a broad stereotype
based on a single pose in a drawing,
based on a single image of the poet,
the truth of the matter is that, yes,
he was most likely gay.
The boy’s portrait turns out
to be a nightmare,
homophobic and offensive,
Walt, rather impressively drawn,
but adorned with lipstick
and eye make-up,
wearing a nurse’s cap.
I’m angry, and displaying the
work to the entire class,
I explain why this one
won’t be on display in
the classroom, how it
is wrong on so many levels,
even getting the stereotype backwards,
assuming gay men must really want to
be women, but worse, attempting to make fun
of the poet’s sexual orientation
by turning him into some kind of clown.
But what truly amazes
me is the boy’s good natured response,
as if in a moment he could actually see
something he couldn’t see as he was feeling
so clever about his apparently accurate theory
about Walt and giddy about his ingenious artistic
representation. He could see
for a moment the wrong turns
of his thinking, the assumptions he was making,
and suddenly for him “weird” became just “different”
and of absolutely no threat or consequence
to the way this boy chose to live his own life.
And in that same moment
I felt I had actually done some teaching.

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