Poems · writing

Works in Progress: Comrades and Lovers

Sometimes I talk back to dead poets.  What do you want from me?  My entire life is talking to people that don’t listen, so why not talk to those that can’t?

In 1900 Walt Whitman published Leaves of Grass, which contained “Give Me The Splendid, Silent Sun“.  In this poem he entreated, in his effusive way,

“Give me faces and streets! give me these phantoms incessant and endless along the trottoirs!
Give me interminable eyes! give me women! give me comrades and lovers by the thousand!”

Of course, he had a very romanticized view of America.  I wanted to reply to this, as someone living through this current mad time.  What is a splendid silent sun to me, what are comrades and lovers anymore? 


By George C. Cox (1851–1903, photo)Adam Cuerden (1979-, restoration) – This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID ppmsca.07549.This tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required. See Commons:Licensing for more information., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27205667

How did you do it?
How did you leave your love on a page?
How did you render the ships, the tall factories, the bent backs,
Cracked hands, secret flames, mouths and salted thighs –
How did you write the current of the prairie and the muddy labyrinth of the city
So that we still swoon over it a hundred years later?
How did you have such optimism?
How did you keep your eye sharp and your heart supple?

Walt, my country is not your country.
The air that bathed you as you tumbled and strained
Is not the air that fills these bleak rooms.
It’s blank and it’s tired now and I think we may have let you down.

The truth you craved, the truth you embroidered,
Rain on the tiles, railroad tracks, the signal, the lover’s heat
The overweening vastness of experience is not and never was –
This is not my country.

There are no longer comrades and lovers.
America is a different tower, flaking with false gold,
Bowed in the base and sinking at the heel,
Shrill and suspicious, even the best of us ready to cut and run
And I can’t blame them.

There are no comrades and lovers. There are suits,
There are announcements, there are statements, not song.
There is flag glinting on every lapel – a pig’s dead eye.
Bodies, Walt. We line up bodies like timber. We waste, and
We waste the best everywhere. I feel like there was a choice made.

No one acts with love. No one acts with mercy.
It’s a small and mean time. Petty and undreaming.
I’m tired Walt. I’m tired and there’s no excuse.
There’s nothing here. There’s no revolution.
There remains only stasis and drudge.
There are no comrades and lovers, there is
Empty progression, accountability, adherence,
An all-seeing eye and a benevolent algorithm.
There remains above all the willing rush
To an empty god. The best among us,
If they survive, will cling to the rind of an empty planet.

Lifting an arm in solidarity, action is passe.
Yes! It is unfashionable to address comrades and lovers.
No one claims a comrade, and we all turn away from the bounty of lovers.

The pagan rush you wanted has burnt out. We burnt out.
Nothing vibrates through the country anymore. There are no songs.
There is no young man romping through the foam.
There is no salt-sea woman waiting for me, vast and as holy as the dawn.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.