Inspired by the work of Walt Whitman
The immigrant woman sways in her subway seat.
She sings to a swaddled baby in many layers of clothing
and gestures with the whole of her body.
I understand her language only by its luscious shape.
I hear its overtones and the meaning is guttural;
A rhythm that reflects off the inside of my retina
and echoes in the space between my toes.
I wish that I could listen to my own speech from an alien position.
I am so blinded by the texture of association!
Words are never clean and aimless,
They do not come to me naked and vulnerable.
How delightful to be unenlightened!
I envy you—
You who listen with half an ear inside yourself,
and somehow hear everything.
The nurse with sterile hair murmurs to a pink-cheeked boy,
The new mother whispers half-formed syllables,
The leper grumbles into silence, the skier groans into his mittens,
the grandmother hiccups from deep inside her chest.
The delivery boy covers his nose with a checkered handkerchief,
The appendix blackens in a cloudy jar,
The receptionist lowers her glasses; she sips a cup of coffee without answering,
The stretcher squeaks an odd melody as it rolls down the hall.
The doctor points silently to an illuminated photograph,
the janitor unfolds a black and yellow sign,
the paramedic presses down on many fallen chests,
the sister reads a library book two months after it is due.
The intern hides her shaking hand, the machines whine underneath,
The patient smiles; inside, he is blinking steadily,
The walls press inward, the pillows smother, the floorboards overheat.
What is it, to be caught between words?
My tongue clamped to the inside of my mouth,
Feeble with deformed thoughts,
Or too many thoughts,
I press against two circular walls that never intersect.
Explain to me,
Where are they hidden,
The passages behind sentences.
To touch the conduits of electricity,
The deciders of people,
I wish I could understand.
Return to Volume 3.1