This is a poem by the poet Ai. I found it particularly interesting to post this week as we are beginning to discuss Walt Whitman’s legacy. I’m interested in other opinions of this poem as, having now studied Whitman fairly extensively, I am not quite sure how I feel about his role in it. And sorry about the double spaces…I couldn’t figure out how to format it better.
“Heaven and earth
What else is there?”
said Walt Whitman in your dream,
then he smiled at you
but you wanted him to come back.
You wanted to tell him that there was more.
there was the hardsell
you had to give yourself to stay alive
HIV positive five years
and counting backward to the day
your other life was stripped
bare of its leaves
at the start of the war of disease
against the body.
You don’t have AIDS,
yet, you know it’s coming
like a train whose whistle
you can hear before you see it.
When you feel the tremors
of internal earthquake,
will you do the diva thing?
Will you Rudolf Nureyev your way on stage,
so ravaged and dazed
you don’t know who you are,
or commit your public suicide in private,
windows open wide
on the other side
where your father, Walt is waiting
to take you in his arms
like a baby returning there on waking,
beside the picnic basket
in the long grass,
where the brittle pages of a book
are turning to the end.