I’ve always been afraid I was too detached to be a poet. But isn’t that the fear of every sentimental person?
Online, I heard them arguing about Walt Whitman. They weren’t arguing, they were agreeing: Whitman was a racist who loved the empire. And I did hear them. You hear something like that.
A young man in school didn’t want to sing Whitman in a choir. His teacher told him to sing or fail. The young man chose to fail.
There’s nothing sweet in the house and I don’t want to get anything that’s not on my diet. There’s a single dried blueberry at the bottom of a bag of unroasted almonds.
I prefer to look at the story as a teacher. This wasn’t the way they talked about it online. They talked about it like they were the student, trying to avoid wounding anyone ever and at all, anymore, by not singing Whitman, by not singing a poem set to music written by someone who loved empire and hated some people and not others because of the color of their skin, who likened them to baboons and distrusted their vote.
What is the right question?
If the young man were my student, I would listen to him for as long as I was able. I would find out what he thought about all of it. So much depends on what he might say. What I can make is a guess. But I hope we’d end up talking about the arrogance of separating yourself from assholes and criminals.
I ate the blueberry first. I ate it fast. I didn’t savor anything, so greedy.
The voice comes from the throat and all it’s connected to. Singing, a backwards story of consumption. Humans err in speech often; more cognizant of their heart in their mind when they sit down to write. I’d want him to put the racist in his throat, though I’d never say that out loud. I’m too afraid of being wrong. Maybe I have been a teacher too long.
I never thought I’d hear a song I didn’t want to sing.
When I was a child I would have told anyone I loved my teachers more than I loved my parents, probably because right and wrong wasn’t about me seeing myself in them. I had terrible handwriting, smeared everything I tried to say. I read faster than everyone else but I couldn’t add, ruining the pace of the lesson. They were good teachers. They all blamed me for something.
Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman was the one book Langston Hughes did not pitch into the sea.
Where is he to tell me why?
SELECTIONS FROM OF RIVERS APPEAR IN VOLUME 49.3