PAD: Whitman’s Legacy

Trying to decide what poem to share next, I came across this poem by Rosemary Catacalos, “Mr. Chairman Takes His Leave.” I was immediately taken with it because of both its uplifting nature even in the face of loss and its reference to Whitman.

Of late, I’ve been drawn again and again to Whitman, or Uncle Walt as I refer to him with my students. In fact, I redesigned my American literature curriculum from a chronological survey to a celebration of American Voices, starting with “I Hear America Singing.” In these days of war and political divisivness, Whitman’s vision of a unified, joyous America singing in harmony is a reassuring contrast to the talking heads of TV yelling about the degenerate other side of the aisle. Rather than argue the political right and left, this poem allows us to envision what we should be: a variety of voices in harmony rather than discord.

For his day, Whitman was expansive, but of course, as time rolls on, more and more voices speak up for inclusion. That is where my curriculum goes next, to poets that respond to Whitman with their own voices to add to the song that is America: Langston Hughes’s “I, Too“; Angela de Hoyos’s “To Walt Whitman“; and Julia Alvarez’s “I, Too, Sing America.” I can’t help but think that Uncle Walt would welcome them all to the table, happy for them to add “their strong melodious songs” to the “varied carols” of America.

Do you know a poem or have written one inspired by one of Whitman’s? Add your voice to the song using the comments below.

Of One Accord

–With Apologies to Walt Whitman, on this,  the anniversary of his birth —

 

Out of the classroom,  endlessly grading, essays, quizzes, tests, projects,

Students querying, teachers conferring, adminstrators requesting,

My world seems harried with

Deadlines, disagreements, discernment, and classroom dissonance, but

I go forth once more into the dusk, the light of the day having passed me by, yet

The twilight is enchanting as I enter the park in search of

Leaves of grass and blooms on the trees to turn this urban jungle

Into nature’s bounty.  And the park is crowded, I am not alone, now

That the sun has been shining and the skies turned blue.

The runners in their teams,  stretching before the race,  gathering in their teal t-shirts,

The casual joggers getting their exercise glance lightly as they saunter by,

The tourists with their cameras capturing Bethesda fountain, the buskers singing

Lennon around the Imagine mosaic adorned with flowers,

The artists, masseuses, and psychics hawking their wares,

The policemen watching it all, hearing the buskers’ songs

And the people talking in English, French, Spanish, German, Hindi, Farsi, Mandarin,

And so many more, melding into one giant song,  a harmony of humanity,

One day, one moment, when the mass of man – and woman – kind

Coexists, lives side by side, enjoying the evening and

The leaves of  grass.

And these days, these moments,  quietly stack themselves

One after another in peaceful concord without

Notice,  until order is broken and dissonance

Reigns, convincing us all that strife and discord are

The Way of the World and the Solution to whatever

Problem arises.  Return, oh friends, to Strawberry Fields,

Hear the songs of peace,  feel the sun on your face,

Lie in the grass, listen to the gurgle of the fountain, hold

Hands with your neighbor and form a bond that

Knows no bounds and admits no disorder.

PAD 16: Science

Today’s prompt is science. But, today is also my father’s birthday, so I put these two ideas together into a poem that uses the terminology of science to describe what fathers do. Happy Birthday, Dad!

The Science of Fatherhood

How can one account for

The vast body of knowledge

One needs, accrues, and dispenses

Over a lifetime of fatherhood?

The rules and principles of study

Change day to day, week to week,

Year to year. Hopefully, they

Improve. And so, fathers assiduously study the

Structure and behavior of their

Natural and physical world.

Through observation and experimentation,

They respond to the reactions

Of the combination of elements

In the house—brother, sister, mother, aunt, grandpa, dog.

They neutralize the friction and

Strive to prevent a meltdown

Of the reactor core.

In a mutually beneficial system,

They adapt to the conditions

Of their environments and combine

With the other elements of their universe

To create harmony.