Letter to Walt Whitman
Home again. You were right. After walking and riding across this country and looking
at the land, the sky, and people, this funny little place has changed. The streets are still narrow, but they no longer seem bare and grim.
I�m in my mother�s kitchen. Her lilac is ruffled by the breeze, a pie is in the oven.
The lines in her face are deeper than before. Or had I not noticed? When I told her about sitting at your bedside, she asked, �Is there no one looking after him?� I said you were fine, just tired. I recalled how you had made bread that very day, written a poem, and picked a mountain of greens. I described the firm, proud way you held your head, and how your grip tightened on my hand when you spoke. As sad and foolish as it seems, I didn�t tell the truth. But I know she understood.
Thank you for the poems. Now I know what you meant when you said they were written long ago. The words were on his ship when brave Odysseus sailed for home. During the course of his strange journey, they were lost a thousand times, then found again, like stars hiding behind clouds on a stormy night. But they did arrive, and like Odysseus, they were themselves, yet immeasurably altered, were virgin once again.
Before coming home, I visited my father�s grave. I looked down at where he lay, my collar turned against the chill. It is spring, you know, but winter too, a time of mud and blossom. A wagon rattled by. I didn�t know the driver, but he nodded just the same. We might have been friends in another time, or will be someday again. Then my father said, �Remember.� It was just like him.
I also thought of you, shivering beneath your blanket, how I stirred the fire, and saw faces in the coals. When I turned, your lips were moving, but your eyes were shut against the world. What poem were you dreaming then? What bright hammer were
you swinging? The day before, you said, �Come again in summer. I�ll be stronger then.� I promised you I would, and before June is gone, I will.
When I told my mother of my plan, she said, �Why don�t you eat some? That�s a long time from now.� Then she filled my bowl with stew. I am eating still. She is humming at the stove. Like me, she would love you. But her world is here, on the path to her garden and the cemetery. She is a wise gray anchor, and will not forsake what she knows,
while I, her lonesome, foolish son, go on believing everything.
April 14, 2005
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