Lullaby

You shall be the rose you see
And the cardinal’s cry you hear.
No frost will come, when north is south,
To end the cutworm’s year.

And you shall be the breeze you feel
Caress you with a sigh.
But songbirds’ breasts will pillows be
For mites that never die.

And you shall be the bud that starts,
And petals as they fall,
And the sixfold mouth that eats the bud
That never starts at all.

 

The New Climate

One day Grandmother drove us away from such a sky,
Iron gray, clotted like mud, leaking light
Like sheets stripped from a bed in a dim room and thrown
Over a lamp still plugged in. She held our fear
With hers at the steering wheel; for play, my sister and I
Watched trees bow and arch, and wondered if we might
See cyclones. One crossed the road behind us, we learned by phone
Near Houston, by only half an hour. How sharp the air
Then smelled. We were so young, we would never die
And thought it clever to have preceded fate with flight,
Instead of lucky, or, as she might say, if alone,
Blessed. To keep us from such knowledge was her care
    And our adventure, an order changed if the sky here,
    In Brooklyn, is the same that came after us there.

Pattern

The western papers write that cyclones have
Moved east. A flood has touched the engine of a
Responsibly small car. In the park
My dog and I watch the wind stretch north
The branches of trees, as an archer a bow, while stony
Clouds are pulled south with the completeness
Of a slide lifted out of a projector.

Sequence

Like Christmas in Australia, or the idea of spring
In some future Texas, desertified and changeless,
May metaphor survive the world it comes from,
As a boy leaves home, a baby her bottle,

Losing the thing without abandonment
In feeling. May stars stay eternal
After falling, for example, and lovers
Recollect themselves, in their unhappiness,

By gazing at a memory of stars,
After stars per se have been obscured.
The pique of losing summer, the stir in the heart
When winter’s fist has grown too weak to hold us—

May they still symbolize, when heat
Has no more seasons, and lead us into feeling
It’s now the turn of stars to go missing
For a while, and then come back.

On loafers

Did Walt Whitman attend Reverend William Patton’s 9 March 1852 lecture on loafers at the Broadway Tabernacle in New York? The somewhat derogatory term had been in circulation for at least a decade, and Whitman, not yet the poet of Leaves of Grass, had already used it in his journalism. But Patton put a torque on the word that would probably have stuck in Whitman’s mind, if he had been in attendance.

Patton gave a conventional etymology and definition. The word loafer “was supposed to be derived from the German laufen (to run). . . . A feature of the loafer’s character is unwillingness to work; he loves idleness.” But when Patton elaborated his idea of the loafer, he prefigured some of Whitman’s imagery. The loafer, he said,

would wonderfully enjoy Eden, where fruits grew without cultivation, and he would have nothing to do but enjoy himself. The probability is, if he could have directed his own creation, he would have had himself made a vegetable, not an animal, and that he should be planted in a deep soil.

In his 1855 poem, Whitman would write

I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease . . . . observing a spear of summer grass.

The poem’s narrator goes on to consider the spiritual meanings of grass, again and again, until at last he seems to become one with it:

I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your bootsoles.

Patton told his audience that the loafer was “a poetical, transcendental philosopher, believing in the beauty of life per se.” Such a belief was expected to sound ridiculous; at lecture’s end, Patton reminded his listeners that idleness was the devil’s plaything and exhorted them to “Be a street sweeper, be a scavenger, if need be, but do not be a loafer.” But a poet might have listened with a contrary and selective ear, and taken the mockery as a compliment.

Patton seems to have devoted the bulk of his speech to a catalog of the

various characters of loafers—the youthful and adult vulgar loafer; the musical loafer, who is generally a brawny Swiss or Italian; the fashionable loafer, a very exquisite and highly finished variety; the wealthy and retired loafer; the military and naval loafer, . . . ; the political loafer . . . ; the aristocratic loafer . . . [and] the “ecclesiastical loafer.”

According to Patton’s complaint, the loafer is everywhere, because he “adapts himself to the most contradictory circumstances of wealth and poverty, ignorance and education.” In Whitman’s hands, of course, the range of identities available to the loafer-poet would become a boast:

In all people I see myself, none more and not one a barleycorn less,
And the good or bad I say of myself I say of them.