Whitman heard the “bustle of growing wheat” [I believe him]
as he loafed in the grass in Camden, one ear to the earth
enormous with corpses and vascular tissue, hairy roots
of cabbages, horseshit enriching the Great Experiment –
the other ear heard the “orbic flex” of a tenor and the soprano
and ghosts ravishing the superflux. Both his leisure and his work
make reparations for the father and the slave war, for love
of a man’s mouth. He was to exult and humble himself
in equal measures, to cup the radiance in one ear
and to knock on one side his skull with his knuckles,
his amative, adhesive skull, to dislodge the dirt. Writing
is to disappear into the pulp, the muscly brain of the editions.
I don’t believe he was the hunted slave, however humble
his excesses, however intemperate his debasement.
I don’t believe him.

Bruce Smith is the author of six books of poems, most recently, Devotions, a finalist for the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the LA Times Book Award, and the winner of the William Carlos Williams Prize.