Song of Washington Park, 5/31/09
I bring my copy of Leaves, mass market paperback,
purchased the summer before I went away to college
at the Walt Whitman Mall in Huntington, Long Island,
with my my birth name neatly written in my 18 year-old hand
in the upper right-hand corner of the first page,
and a bookplate inside the front cover
with my short-lived married name, from when I was into
Aubrey Beardsley bookplates and married names,
both seemingly the thing to do.
In the park is a birthday reading for Whitman, of Whitman,
his "Song of Myself," not about him,
and the weather is clear this year,
but cold, colder than the mall I've just been to,
and the gym I endured this morning.
Listeners are gathered around the mic in lawn chairs,
wearing baseball caps, multicolored shawls,
gloves, scarves and blankets.
My boyfriend is dressed for summer,
white linen jacket, straw fedora, short-sleeved shirt.
Dan, our host, dons his customary black beret.
I have my black jeans, shirt, sandals,
tortoise-edged sunglasses, and nothing more.
My boyfriend retrieves our picnic blanket from the car
and I wrap it around myself, him being stronger,
less inclined to expressions of discomfort,
We who are unafraid of the mic take turns.
Even my boyfriend assists, offers up the unfamiliar lists
to the busy wind, as the sun dodges out
from behind newly leaved trees, new May trees,
new green, suddenly full.
We stand at the base of the Robert Burns' statue.
The mic stand is decorated with Tom's Day-Glo streamers.
One tears off, blows away, and I chase it down, a memento
of Tom, the mic stand, the green.
Power walkers in the park walk more forcefully
when they pass the poetry readers.
Rugby players at the adjacent field,
high strung and giddy with games and the day,
pay no attention, no mind at all.
A jogger heads off in the opposite direction,
bald head gleaming in the distance.
A marching band practices its routines somewhere out of sight,
Elderly sweethearts cuddle on a park bench
under a spreading oak, then come closer,
cross before the mic and readers,
step in unison left to right.
An ice cream truck drives by, Mr. Ding-A-Ling,
and the electronic tune is foreign,
not "The Entertainer," or "Yellow Rose of Texas,"
I hear at home, complete with
automated whinny of a Texas horse.
Two rugby players stop him for treats.
Then I think, this reading should be in my old mall,
mall of my memory, fountain in front of Macy’s
standing in for Robert Burns,
water swishing, gurgling, drowning out
shoppers’ quick steps, clean-shaven cascades,
pocket change minnows glimmering in the pool,
and shoppers rushing past, big, crinkling red bags
stuffed with cashmere jock straps, alligator bras,
nylon nylons, exotic perfumes brewed East of the Expressway.
Should we read on the roof,
plush pads of moss to cushion our steps,
bold gulls improvising blocks from the Sound,
up where we can see Pinelawn in its orderly splendor,
bones as broken in death as in life,
and Adventureland, popping lights, pirate logo,
rocking metal galleon thrilling ticketholders and us?
The human stew remains the same,
though the spices vary.
I take the bus there, the mall, too small for a car.
With Walt’s words to move through my mouth
I see what he would see, the wild frontiers
of A&S, Penneys beyond my $5 spear,
soft pretzel and slushie at McCrory’s before the fire,
Foods of All Nations, where the sugar-covered violets come from,
a book shop at end tip of one wing,
comic books, paperbacks, where I buy my copy, Walt’s book,
carry with me, unread, for decades,
bring to this reading in Albany today,
leave in the car, because I know Dan has a script,
bigger letters for older eyes,
and I do my part, tandoori chicken vapors
mixing with the wind and my hair.
The mic rustles, and Robert Burns
remembers his night, Tom’s beret,
and the snow that surrounded his birth.