Walt Whitman's 200th Birthday
I love Walt Whitman. I have always loved Walt Whitman. And yet, as such things go, his big two-oh-oh escaped me. What can I say? I guess I have more pressing things in my life now. That doesn’t change the fact that I love Walt Whitman. His 200th birthday was on Friday. I didn’t make a cake and I didn’t buy him a present. I didn’t even write him a letter. But nine years ago, I did write him a poem. And I am happy to share it with you here today.
Happy belated birthday, Walt. You are part of everything, as are we all.
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I celebrate myself.
I am a marksman of happy tidings and ill reputes.
This life I have lived to present day has been filled with jubilation and good cheer. I have witnessed the things I have wished for come true and I have planted the seeds of my future within close proximity of my selfishness.
There were times—I reflect—where the good of my fellow man came second only to my own desires. And for this, I am not proud.
I come to you now with a full, albeit capsized heart.
I come to you now with a humble song of forgiveness on my lips and complacency at the forefront of my chorus.
I see my eyes, they are platitudinous, yet still hold their vibrant strength.
I see you as you are, plain, naked, human, alone, scared and sacred, wonderful as the grass under my feet, full as the sky, secure in imperfection—
You are me as I am you. Together, we are all flawed to perfection.
I cannot breathe lest I fill my lungs with the expelled air of youth,
I cannot till my garden without rearranging the dirt my ancestors walked on, fought on, died on.
I cannot be a thing in the world before I consider myself to be a mere stepping stone in progress.
This progress is never ending—it is never beginning—it is moving on and on as a drifter in a sandstorm,
Hurrying through the debris to shuffle to a home far away from where he doesn't want to be.
I am every lost soul incarnate and I am every enlightened beast that walks the high plains.
Do you wonder at my self-serving knowledge?
Do you hearken yourself to be anything but a collection of gorgeous atoms? Rearranged within yourself to make you whole?
You are unique as the sun.
You are a star shining. You are a solar system. You are God, Jesus, Buddha, and John Smith.
You are every mother. Nourishing your young with your breast.
I saw a parade of children, marching toward the center of town, holding smiles on their faces and flags against their chests.
They are involved and engrossed in the memory of a nation that prides itself in history and future.
They run ahead and play tag around the cannons.
They stop dead in their game when three fighter jets tear across the sky, erasing all other noise from Heaven down.
For an instant, one moment, the children cry behind their eyes for a feeling that is as of yet, unformed—
It is a love of everything.
It is our built-in connection to it all.
I have been to the edge of my own parameters and I have waded through the murkiness of my soul.
I have contemplated what it means to be alive, what it means to be a man, what it means to be low grade.
By salting some wounds, I have self-flagellated and I have come out the other end with this rapid beating heart.
It sounds off in my chest as if a soldier were dying there, crashing to the ground—his rifle gives a last report and the silver of his bullet shreds me
Takes me down with him. The me that once was is bleeding the blood of every last man, woman, and child to have ever left this earth.
In the dirt, my old body withers, rots, and seeps into the roots of history.
I am reborn in the garden of where I came from and I see you now as you are as I am:
Two imperfect individuals striving for guidance and clarity, content with our shortcomings, inspired by change and improvement, thrilled with the prospect of BEING.
We are all wound up as one.
We are all bound to be better than we are.
By the sound of my voice and the fiber of my being, I mark myself unwhole