THE WHITMAN ISSUE
Joanne Rocky Delaplaine
........The scent of these armpits aroma finer than prayer.
................--Walt Whitman, Song of Myself
O Walt, O angel nurse, it’s the curse of the hound dog
I’m flat with, the curse of picking up your trail, so sweet:
mulberries and honeysuckle, early morning Potomac River mist,
rain-drenched railroad ties, Pennsylvania Avenue trolley grease.
Grandma’s peach and rhubarb pie, mulled cider, fresh-cut hay,
a new-born calf, my baby sister’s head, our farm-horse Ida’s
winter breath. The cougar I tracked for three nights and three days.
Deer musk, sassafrass, John Brown's last cigarette. The hide
on my banjo, new boots, Yankee coffee, clean sheets. Flannel!
I could kill a man for a whiff of your red flannel undershirt. That orange
you peeled me, the printer’s ink on your hot-off-the-press Leaves.
Am I well enough to wrestle you? We’d be great folly for the men.
I’m going to die anyway, Walt. Thanks for writing to my ma.
Thanks for holding my hand while they took off my leg. Tell Lincoln
we’d still follow him into this bloody, mad, muddy Armageddon.
My arms still work. It would cheer me to get off this blood-soaked cot.
O, Walt, honor a poor soldier’s last request. Let me press you closer
to my face. Closer, yes, I want to graze in your finest grass. Brandy? Not yet,
not while I have you in the flesh. Let me die with the smell of your armpits
trickling down my nose, God’s perfume, essence of you, Walt Whitman,
seeping with a slow, steady drip through the pores of my skin,
into muscle, joint, bone, my ghost leg, my beating heart, my every vein.
Joanne Rocky Delaplaine lives in Maryland. Her poems have appeared in: Poet Lore; Cabin Fever: Poets at Joaquin Miller's Cabin, 1984-2001; WordWrights!; Other Testaments: Volume 1, The Old Testament, and on Pacifica Radio's web site. She has taught poetry workshops at the Labor Heritage Foundation's Great Labor Arts Exchange at the George Meany Center for Labor Studies, and will teach a workshop combining poetry and movement called "Expressing the Sacred: Yoga, Poetry and Prayer" at Unity Woods Yoga Center.
Published in Vol. 6, No. 1, Winter 2004
To read more by this author:
Joanne Rocky Delaplaine: The Wartime Issue