Walt Whitman in Spite of Biographers
by Joanne Cage
I told you about myself. I never claimed to be perfect.
Those who dig at my life with suspicion
are punished with confirmation.
They do not diminish me;
they do not even diminish themselves.
They prove what I told you long ago:
they look for me in themselves,
and find themselves in me. I am large,
I am the book writers, I am you.
I exist in the multitudes I love.
You are still welcome here. Come,
and you will carry away as much and as good
as you have always carried away,
and I will not dry up, I will not be exhausted.
The size of your vessel will measure
how much of me you carry away.
So come on, bring your bucket or wheelbarrow–
Bring your begging bowl, cask or barrel–
Bring your bare hands, heart and brain,
and I will fill them up with large thoughts
on which you will ruminate like the great ruminants.
I will give you antidotes to fear and loneliness.
Read the books if you like, but I tell you again:
I am not there. They have not pressed me between boards
nor bound me at the spine.
If you look for me in the books, you may lose me,
hate me, feel ashamed we met and talked together,
but you can never forget me.
As long as crowds mill around in city streets
and someone’s murdered in an alley;
while soldiers die and babies are born to women,
and men can dream like children
and believe in things the way they ought to be;
as long as dry leaves drift onto graves
and the world goes on as it always has,
you will remember the stories I told you
and read my letters written in the grass.