What thoughts I have of you tonight Walt Whitman, for I walked down the sidestreets under the trees with a headache self-conscious looking at the full moon.
In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went into the neon fruit supermarket, dreaming of your enumerations!
What peaches and what penumbras! Whole families shopping at night! Aisles full of husbands! Wives in the avocados, babies in the tomatoes!—and you, Garcia Lorca, what were you doing down by the watermelons?
I saw you, Walt Whitman, childless, lonely old grubber, poking among the meats in the refrigerator and eyeing the grocery boys.
I heard you asking questions of each: Who killed the pork chops? What price bananas? Are you my Angel?
I wandered in and out of the brilliant stacks of cans following you, and followed in my imagination by the store detective.
We strode down the open corridors together in our solitary fancy tasting artichokes, possessing every frozen delicacy, and never passing the cashier.
Where are we going, Walt Whitman? The doors close in an hour. Which way does your beard point tonight?
(I touch your book and dream of our odyssey in the supermarket and feel absurd.)
Will we walk all night through solitary streets? The trees add shade to shade, lights out in the houses, we’ll both be lonely.
Will we stroll dreaming of the lost America of love past blue automobiles in driveways, home to our silent cottage?
Ah, dear father, graybeard, lonely old courage-teacher, what America did you have when Charon quit poling his ferry and you got out on a smoking bank and stood watching the boat disappear on the black waters of Lethe?
It’s that time of the year once more – May 31st, the birthday of Allen’s great hero, (our great hero), Uncle Walt, “dear father, graybeard…courage-teacher..” Previous birthday salutes on the Allen Ginsberg Project for Whitman can be found here, here and here
An early note (a class transcription from Naropa, 1975) may be found here
Further transcription from Allen’s 1976 “Spontaneous Poetics” classes at Naropa may be found here, here, here, here, here, and here
With additional classes (Whitman and the Calamus Poems, Whitman and William Wordsworth) – here and here
and a transcript of Allen’s contribution to 1988’s “Voices and Visions” (see below) – here
Now, through to June the 4th, scholars are gathered at the University of Exeter in England for the Ninth International Whitman Week Seminar and Symposium
Here (from Horace Traubel‘s 19o6 With Walt Whitman in Camden – Volume 1
Thursday May 31. 1888 – W’s birthday. Dropped in on Mickle Street on my way to work in the morning. W in bed but awake. Little talk. I kissed W. My congratulations. He was very fine about it. “Seventy years – seventy failures – seventy successes – which do you say?” “It amounts to success, whatever may have been the failures by the way.” “Good! Good!” I asked W: “And don’t every life amount to success?”. He looked at me an instant and then said, “I see what you mean. Yes – every life amounts to success”, I hurried off, W calling after me: “I’ll see you at Tom’s; don’t fail us at Tom’s. In the meantime, see Ferguson – bring me something from Ferguson: I am hungry for something from Ferguson”.
Happy Birthday, Walt.