by lewis levenberg

After hiatus, always nice to ease back in with poetry.

Poem/CounterPoem takes an out-of-print, public-domain poem and responds to it, also in verse.

Today’s comes from Walt Whitman:


Once I pass’d through a populous city imprinting my brain for future use with its shows, architecture, customs, traditions,
Yet now of all that city I remember only a woman I casually met there who detain’d me for love of me,
Day by day and night by night we were together — all else has long been forgotten by me,
I remember I say only that woman who passionately clung to me,
Again we wander, we love, we separate again,
Again she holds me by the hand, I must not go,
I see her close beside me with silent lips sad and tremulous.

Walt Whitman, 1819-1892

From “Children of Adam” (1856-1865) in Leaves of Grass.
Oxford Book of American Verse (1950).
Emory Holloway, Whitman: An Interpretation in Narrative (1926).

Holloway was the first to notice a revision from the original manuscript, that changed the lover from a man into a woman. How much would it change this poem, or editions of leaves of grass, or whitman’s status, to revert the poem to its original orientation? Consider that “Children of Adam” in Leaves of Grass deals with sexuality in general, while the section “Cadmus” deals with “manly love.” Would these lines then deserve to move?

when he left, i could not speak:
my mind grew numb and i forgot my name as i stared at the fringes of the city.
his hand lingered on my nape though his gaze wandered restless past my face, past the hive of the skyline
with its distant dramas, hustle, pomp, shivers, past faded stars, past memory, past lilac branches hewn in shadow
past bare nervous fraction of raised down — his tender calloused touch floats still, we do not shift, my toes clench,
i release him, chest from cheek, breathe sigh of solitude, rise, pace the city’s streets alone again
in lasting absence, pull my mouth taut and forget his passions.

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