Mr. Chairman Takes His Leave

As to me, I know of nothing else but miracles.
Walt Whitman 

 en memoria William Rashall Sinkin, 1913–2014 

Whitman, you once told me, is democracy on the page, messy 
and imperfect as we are in real life, which gave you hope 

that we would one day make real life true democracy, ripe blossom,
pollen dusting every moment and person, each scampering mote of light. 

This is why as you lay dying, I read “I Hear America Singing”
and knew you heard every word and could feel my hand on yours 

though you were already moving toward other miracles than this life.
A sunflower followed your motion and a yellow dog stood guard. 

You, who lived the notion that the sun belongs to each and every one,
beggars, dreamers, kings, all. You who believed banks could have hearts, 

for gods sake! You have left it to us, messy and imperfect
as we are and will be, to keep to the work side by side 

and as long as it takes, all the while singing of miracles
just as Whitman and you taught us to do. Meanwhile, you 

were last seen wearing blue-plaid pajamas, a contrasting
blue-plaid bow tie, and surrounded by hummingbirds. 

Hummingbirds leave Texas in early February, migrating north
to make new lives. The angle of the sun tells them precisely when 

to take their leave. They arrive thousands of miles away
in mid-May, about the time of your birthday. A sunflower 

follows your motion. The yellow dog stands guard.

Related Poems

Miracles

Why, who makes much of a miracle?
As to me I know of nothing else but miracles,
Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,
Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky,
Or wade with naked feet along the beach just in the edge of the water,
Or stand under trees in the woods,
Or talk by day with any one I love, or sleep in the bed at night with any one I love,
Or sit at table at dinner with the rest,
Or look at strangers opposite me riding in the car,
Or watch honey-bees busy around the hive of a summer forenoon,
Or animals feeding in the fields,
Or birds, or the wonderfulness of insects in the air,
Or the wonderfulness of the sundown, or of stars shining so quiet and bright,
Or the exquisite delicate thin curve of the new moon in spring;
These with the rest, one and all, are to me miracles,
The whole referring, yet each distinct and in its place.

To me every hour of the light and dark is a miracle,
Every cubic inch of space is a miracle,
Every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread with the same,
Every foot of the interior swarms with the same.

To me the sea is a continual miracle,
The fishes that swim—the rocks—the motion of the waves—the
        ships with men in them,
What stranger miracles are there?

Errancities

for Edouard Glissant

1.
the mind wanders as a line of poetry taking flight meanders
in the way birds spreading wings lift into space knowing
skies are full of surprises like errançities encountering restless
journeys as in the edgy solos of miles davis or jimi hendrix

listen to night-song of sea waves crashing in foaming with voices
carrying liquid histories splashing there on rock or sandy shores
after traveling across time space & distance it resembles a keening
language of music heard at the tip of a sharp blade of steel

cutting through air singing as it slices a head clean from its neck
& you watch it drop heavy as a rock landing on earth & rolling
like a bowling ball the head leaving a snaking trail of blood reminding
our brains of errançities wandering through our lives every day

as metaphors for restless movement bring sudden change
surprise in the way you hear errançities of double meaning
layered in music springing from secret memories as echoes
resounding through sea & blue space is what our ears know

& remember hearing voices speaking in tongues carrying history
blooming as iridescent colors of flowers multifarious as rainbows
arching across skies multilingual as joy or sorrow evoked inside
our own lives when poetic errançities know their own forms

 

2.
what is history but constant recitations of flawed people pushed
over edges of boundaries of morality pursuing wars pillage
enslavement of spirits is what most nations do posing as governing
throughout cycles of world imagination plunder means profit

everywhere religion is practiced on topography as weapons used
as tools written in typography to conquer minds to slaughter for gold
where entire civilizations become flotsam floating across memory seas
heirloom trees cut down as men loot the planet without remorse

their minds absent of empathy they remember/know only greed
these nomadic avatars of gizzard-hearted darth vaders who celebrate
"shock-doctrines" everywhere ballooning earnings-sheet bottom lines
their only creed for being on earth until death cuts them down

 

3.
but poetry still lives somewhere in airstreams evoking creative breath
lives in the restless sea speaking a miscegenation of musical tongues
lives within the holy miracle of birds elevating flight into dreams & song
as errançities of spirits create holy inside accumulation of daybreaks

raise everyday miraculous voices collaborating underneath star-nailed
clear black skies & the milky eye of a full moon over guadeloupe
listen to the mélange of tongues compelling in nature's lungs in new york
city tongues flung out as invitations for sharing wondrous songs

which nature is a summons to recognize improvisation as a surprising path
to divergence through the sound of scolopendra rooted somewhere here
in wonder when humans explode rhythms inside thickets of words/puns
celebrating the human spirit of imagination is what poets seek

listen for cries of birds lifting off for somewhere above the magical
pulse of sea waves swirling language immense with the winds sound
serenading us through leaves full of ripe fruit sweet as fresh water
knowing love might be deeper than greed & is itself a memory

a miracle always there might bring us closer to reconciliation inside
restless métisse commingling voices of errançities wandering within
magic the mystery of creation pulling us forward to wonder to know
human possibility is always a miraculous gift is always a conundrum

The Wound Before the Tomb of Walt Whitman

Translated by Carolyn Forché

You who saw the vast oceans
and the peaks of the mountains,
who communed with all the sailors of the world
and you who saw Christ eat the bread of his last supper among the young
and the elders,
you who saw the executioner of Europe
with his ax soaked with blood,
You stepped on the scaffold
and the fields in which mothers cried to their dead children.

Tell me if it is still
possible to announce triumphant justice
and deliver the lessons of the new world.

I’m going to kiss your lips,
they are cold and taste like the word America.