Category Archives: Poetry

Walt Whitman, a Kosmos (At 200)

Today is the 200th anniversary of  Walt Whitman’s birth; in today’s parlance, #waltwhitman200. Happy Walt Day, all. Celebrate, or loafe, at least. I wrote and posted the following in observation of the day in 2013, and I find it still “plumb in the uprights”:

Walter Whitman Jr. was born on May 31st, 1819 in West Hills, Long Island. The birth of Walt Whitman, an American, one of the roughs, a kosmos, disorderly, fleshly, and sensual, no sentimentalist, no stander above men or women or apart from them, no more modest than immodest… is a more uncertain date but was announced to the world from a print shop in Brooklyn in July 1855.

leaves of grass 1855

As you can see from this picture I took of the copy in the National Gallery in Washingtion, D.C., the author’s name does not appear on the title page of the first edition of Leaves of Grass, just an image of his avatar, a word we use very casually in the virtual realm we inhabit these days. The name “Walt Whitman” does not appear until several hundred lines into the text of which this “kosmos” is composed.

young WaltWalt Whitman, 1854

In this picture, taken the year before the publication of Leaves of Grass, you see the poet, the rough kosmos intentionally posed. Previously, Mr. Whitman, sometime journalist and newspaper editor, had been a bit of a dandy, a city slicker…

Walt 1848Walter Whitman, circa 1848

Walter, Sr., did work as a carpenter, but his son, though he worked on occasion as a typesetter, had soft hands. Walt was just the sort of guy you would find today draped over a cup of milky java at the espresso bar. Today Walt would likely have an iPad, rather than the little notebook bound in green, in which he wrote the words

Observing the summer grass…

The slacker with soft hands reinvented himself as “one of the roughs” and found within himself “miracle enough to stagger sextillions of infidels.”

I celebrate myself, 
And what I assume you shall assume, 
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

I loafe and invite my soul, 
I lean and loafe at my ease . . . . observing a spear of summer grass.

Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poems, 
You shall possess the good of the earth and sun . . . . there are millions of suns left, 
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand . . . . nor look through the eyes of the dead . . . . nor feed on the spectres in books, 
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me, 
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from yourself. 

I have heard what the talkers were talking . . . . the talk of the beginning and the end, 
But I do not talk of the beginning or the end. 

There was never any more inception than there is now, 
Nor any more youth or age than there is now; 
And will never be any more perfection than there is now, 
Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now. 

Urge and urge and urge, 
Always the procreant urge of the world. 

Out of the dimness opposite equals advance . . . . Always substance and increase, 
Always a knit of identity . . . . always distinction . . . . always a breed of life. 

To elaborate is no avail . . . . Learned and unlearned feel that it is so. 

Sure as the most certain sure . . . . plumb in the uprights, well entretied, braced in the beams, 
Stout as a horse, affectionate, haughty, electrical, 
I and this mystery here we stand.

The miracle exploded into ecstasy out of nothing like a one man big bang, and in its inflation became the “kosmos” proclaimed in Leaves of Grass. Walt lived in its afterglow the rest of his life, revising, adding, revising, adding, modifying the vessel of the literary persona as he aged into the “Good Grey Poet.”  Even for poets who don’t read, the body electric of the eidolons of Walt the Kosmos exist as a sort of cosmic background radiation like the cold remnant glow of photon decoupling that suffuses the visible universe.

Copy and paste this in your hearts, poets:

This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, reexamine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body. . . . . . . . The poet shall not spend his time in unneeded work. He shall know that the ground is always ready ploughed and manured . . . . others may not know it but he shall. He shall go directly to the creation. His trust shall master the trust of everything he touches . . . . and shall master all attachment.


A Poem for Memorial Day: Flower War


flower war collage mr blick twk

Collage by Mr. Blick

Flower War

Tlachinol xochitli
zan iyyo tonequimilol

Flowers of fire;
only they can be our garments:
Flowers of war.

Put down your weapons, soldiers.
The flowery god,
the plumed serpent

is gathering spring blossoms
in green meadows
and mountain gorges.

He is gathering fresh fire,
the little flowers
that bloom from spent shell casings.

Put down your death spitters,
ugly and depleted.
The god will give you weapons more beautiful

and honorable—Lances,
tipped not with the dark glitter of obsidian,
but with bright plumes.

Tlachinol xochitli
zan iyyo tonequimilol

Flowers of fire;
only they can be our garments:
Flowers of war.

Take off your helmets and armor.
The god will cloth you in fire,
flowers of fire, the bright rainment of flower war.

In the flower war,
you can be heroes,
you can be the champions.

The gods will be nourished,
the people will celebrate your sacrifice,
the glory in your capture.

you are the teotl ixiptla,
the divine images,
the flower warriors.

In flower war,
there is defeat with honor,
death will not sting, death will drink

for you are rich with octli,
the nectar and pollen
of divinity.

iwo jima flower war mr blick

Collage by Mr. Blick

Museum of Joy: Ursine

William Holbrook Beard the bears

William Holbrook BeardThe Bears

The great blue bear
rises at dusk, over the scrolled light
of day, in early spring.

Stars stuck in his paws like thorns,
his long stiff tail
hung on a peg
like the handle of a black iron skillet,
he unwinds, the grandfather
of all clocks
and collects his tolls
ticking over the bed of dreaming earth.

All kinked with winter,
the bear hugs to himself
the great cold swarm of far suns,
the ten thousand and one torn and curdled veils
of she who he so loved
that when, in her den, he raked up her must
from the litter
of her splendor
the bear could only seek her as prey.

The bear dips and pours, gigantic ladle,
dips and stirs
muddying the black water of the cauldron
with cold milt.
Prospecting for roe, he slaps meteors
like salmon
from the milky way.

You who have eyes, drink in this dark.

In holy greed the bear laps at stardust,
the sludge of nebulas, the seep
of blue honey from a drowsy hive
of black holes,
until his tongue
is buzzing with sisters.

You who have eyes, taste
in the salt of tears
the sting of sweet jesus in mother night.

I’m feeling rather bearish today. This happens to me in May. I wrote the poem, The Great Bear, back in, um,  May 1995 or so, and posted it on the Tent Show in May 2010. I still like it. And it is May.

A Cento of Early Ezra: No Whisper Speak

Bade No Whisper Speak the Birds

I stood still and was a tree amid the wood,
For I was a gaunt, grave councilor,
I did not like to remember things any more.

I have curled mid the boles of the ash wood
Strange spells of old deity, ravens,
Ivy fingers clutching through the crevices

Lest blasphemy be writ against my name;
Wistful for my kin and none about me
Save in shadows that come mewards

Flesh-shrouded, bearing secrets. All that
With strange sadness, hold the earth
In mockery, and are kind, with seas between us

Call the utmost singing, torn, green, silent
Bade no whisper speak the birds.

According to Wikipedia:

The Latin term cento derives from Greek κέντρων (gen. κέντρωνος), meaning “‘to plant slips’ (of trees)”. A later word in Greek, κέντρόνη, means “patchwork garment”. According to Hugh Gerard Evelyn-White, “A cento is therefore a poem composed of odd fragments”.

Last week I picked out from the “poetry month” doorside display at my local library Ezra Pound: New Selected Poems and Translations (New in 2010). As I was reading some of Pound’s earliest poems from A Lume Spento,  the muse’s scalpel began to twitch in the big left hand of the cortical homunculus, slicing and dicing, pushing collops of cruelest April (crueler than Eliot) into collage, a cruller twisting of cakey Pound. There is conflict between past and present tenses in the stitched phrases that I can’t resolve, so I let it stand until it’s stood.

Poem: Fallen Angel

dark angel new albany

Fallen Angel

The chrysalis is broken;
smoldering flesh
trails a crinkle of smoke:
Bloomed wings
tangled in a smiling rope
will shine.

The corroded ikons peel from your breasts:
Saints of snow panting for scripture
will shine out
like a high and narrow gothic window
lets in stained light
to the gloomy charnel of bread and wine.

This is the broken shadow
of promises kept:
Ragged edge;
knife soothed
in a pitcher of razors,
will shine.

Note: This is an old poem. Seems like yesterday, but I wrote it about 1990. It was the last poem of a chapbook I put out, called The Bread of Wolves.  Almost 30 years ago. I also posted it on the original iteration of the Tent Show on Salonblogs, probably 15 years ago, but not here on WordPress Tent Show ’til tonight.

You are old, Father Omed.

The Kindly Ones, Thou False Oaf


The kindly ones await you
with furious patience

graciously weep for you
tears of blood

rivulets of corrosion
gnawed into their cheeks.

Brushing the snakes
out of their eyes

they pull tight
the twitch and flex of leather

of wing
of scourge

pull tight
raw hide weave

on the shining


The wrathful lordosis
of flanks

blacker than black
unvexed nightmares

thighs unmoved
but not slow

of low coals

snatches of pale fire
gelid coils

of unhymned lightning
the terrible

swift soar
and lash

too kind to be kith
cold to be kin

the infold
of cruel fates

infer below thou
false oaf.

Steal This Meme: So Comfortable, Very Smart

trump wwi crosses so comfortable very smart

Trump, the Twitter certified @realDonaldTrump, called a travel lid today. That means he didn’t leave the White House. He was very busy tweeting. He did no honor to veterans, to the people of this country, or any one else today, but at least he didn’t wasn’t lying while standing in front of the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery.

tomb of the unknown inscription crop twk


Here, lies are solemn.

Here, lies are told
in the cadence of boot heels ringing on stone,
in the snap of a bolt shooting home
in the breech of a polished rifle, held at port arms
in white gloved hands.

Here, we fold our flag
and tell ourselves
the soldier died bravely
in a just cause.

Dead men cannot lie.
Here, all causes are lost.

Here, the living let stones tell the lies
the dead cannot.
To sooth sore hearts, tales are told
of glory in battle,
and courage under fire.

Here, the paths of glory
discolor marble
a shade of brown like dried blood
scuffed into the paving stones
by the slow turn
and turnabout march
of the Guard of Honor
in roped off sacred ground
in front of the Tomb of the Unknown.

Here, lies are told by Presidents and generals.
Here, chiseled stone names no names.
Here, the truth lies sleeping under stone.

Under lies, the truth rests,
but not in peace.
The dead have chisels that cut the heart.