Walt Whitman, born May 31 1819

Walt Whitman and Peter Doyle, "Pete the Great." 

Today would have been Walt Whitman's 195th birthday. From the recent biography of Doyle by Martin G. Murray: 

"Peter George Doyle's importance in the emotional life of Walt Whitman is well established. The romantic friendship that sprang up in 1865 between the streetcar conductor and the poet spanned the years of Whitman's residence in Washington, D.C, and continued nearly up through Whitman's death in Camden, in 1892. Yet despite the prominent role that Doyle played in Whitman's life, our knowledge of his personal history is incomplete. The following biography fills in some of the missing pieces about this enigmatic figure ....

Although Whitman and Doyle's friendship dates to early 1865, the first extant correspondence between them is in the fall of 1868. At the time, Whitman was in New York visiting family and friends. The very first surviving letter of what was to prove a long correspondence was from Pete, written on September 18.68  He exclaimed, 'I could not resist the inclination to write to you this morning it seems more than a week since i saw you.' On September 25, Walt declared, 'I think of you very often, dearest comrade, & with more calmness than when I was there—I find it first rate to think of you, Pete, & to know that you are there, all right, & that I shall return, & we will be together again. I don't know what I should do if I hadn't you to think of & look forward to.' In the six weeks that they were apart, Doyle wrote at least seven times, and Walt wrote eleven times. ...

Modern-day readers of the Calamus book of Whitman's letters to Doyle and Pete's account of their times together find the book remarkable for its frank acknowledgement of the romantic nature of the attraction between Whitman and Doyle. At the same time, such readers are often cautioned about projecting modern sensibilities onto nineteenth-century correspondence. It is interesting, then, to find that reviews of the Calamus book, written shortly after its initial publication, endorse the late twentieth-century view that this is indeed a book of love letters. For example, the following review appeared in The Critic, on January 1, 1898:

The publishing of the letters addressed by Whitman to Peter Doyle is justified by the fact that they throw all the light that is needed upon the poet's friendships with younger men, and upon that section of "Leaves of Grass" called "Calamus" in which he celebrates "the manly love of comrades." The sentiment in question, depending on a semi-physical attraction, is common among boys, young men of the working class, who can be considered as grown-up boys, and, as we are told by travellers, among savages. These letters show Whitman to have been one of the few in whom this feeling lives on into mature years; he seems to have been always attracted by, and attractive to, young men. The recipient of these letters was a young Confederate soldier, who, being paroled in Washington, became a car-conductor, and in that capacity first encountered Whitman, whose habit of conversing at every opportunity with men of that class is well known.

From Pete the Great by Martin G. Murray. More at the Whitman Archive here.

"Morning Sex in the Parking Deck" - Gabe Newman

Morning sex in the parking deck, starts around 2am.  
Sex in the elevators, sex in the stairs.  
Sex in the cars, sex in the bars.  
Sex on the escalator... 
Wait!  That would hurt.  
Don't have sex on escalators.  
It just won't work.  
Sex in the bathrooms.  
Sex on the patio. 
Sex in the streets.  
Sex just can't be beat.  
But, does anybody just have sex in the bedroom anymore?  
You bunch of parking deck sex perps!  
Morning sex in the parking deck, 
It's a trend, I swear to you
An epidemic in fact!  
It's hard to grasp
But, morning sex in the parking deck 
Can never really last.  
Because, as soon as you think it can
The elevator doors open
And, now you have fans
But, you still have to pull up your pants!

Stop having sex in MY parking deck you kids!!!!  I'm not here to clean up your condoms, but the cash and cases of beer are much appreciated!


"Morning Sex in the Parking Deck" was read by Gabe Newman at his first Word appearance on May 7. He adds: "inspired by my experience as an 'Undercover Parking Violations Officer' with duties including Parking Deck maintenance...I was fortunate enough to be able to read this to an English Literature class at UGA last year.  At the end, one of the students asked, 'I just don't understand what the bag of tortilla chips and the cup of coffee have to do with it'.  I said, 'I guess that's what they had for breakfast'!"

"A Springtime Promise" - Bob Ambrose

"A Springtime Promise" - Bob Ambrose

Lines composed after the onset of an intermittent arrhythmia

There are springtime Saturday mornings
bursting with birdsong and breeze
so sweet no set of sun salutations,
no Psalm of praise could say
such love, when life breathes light
and you run for hours on joy alone.
Do not forget these days

For there will be fortnights
            with fail
when worlds assault your
spirit with chainsaws
        at eight
on days that follow
frantic weeks of sleep
fears converge on fitful
nights, when cynicism drains
        your life
            your heart
grows dim beneath bright
skies which mock your
with lies that love
persists and life abides
      for flesh
          is grass
that withers, dries
when summer brings
        its scorching
and blows unteathered
hope to shreds. Do not
            the spring

For there will be seasons
when you find yourself dark
through too many
tomorrows so lost
            is just
a set of syllables in
some forgotten tongue
        when paths
            wind inward,
spiral aimless, down
through tangles, torn
            worn out
dreams, forsaken, trapped
in mental mazes, soul
        cries out
the ages, curses life,
denies it twice, that
born to die. Do not forget
the darkest times

For there will be springtime Saturdays 
when you find your heart 
strangely calm 
when the sacred surrounds you with signs
for it's written on the lattice of a late season frost 
and whispered in the midnight storm 
that peace, perhaps, will find you yet 
perhaps, for you, a pulse and breath 
for you, the tilt and turn of earth 
for you, a patch of morning sun.

(2012 photo by Grady Thrasher)

"Young Beauty in the Eye of the Aged Beholder" - Gregory de Rocher

"Young Beauty in the Eye of the Aged Beholder" - Gregory de Rocher

A one-eyed geezer in late morning
Slowly makes his way South 
from the UGA Arch to the Main Library in late spring.
Like a pebble in a mountain stream
He is surpassed by hurrying currents of figures
Taking larger strides than his on naked legs
Making their way to the next class.
He peers at one pair
Cutting suddenly in front of him, and muses:

Now that is
Some Behind
To Behold
from behind ...
Quite a Behind
To hold 
From behind ...
A Behind
Held from behind
Behind the Beheld
By the Beholder ...

Behold that Beheld and Held Behind
While it uncovers itself, then hides forever
In the eye
Of the aged Beholder.

"Editorial" - Johnny M



Northfield Bank Raider -- Wounded at Northfield and 
again at Medelia for a total of 11 wounds, one
ball lodged in right eye, captured September 1876

"Hide and Seek" - Lorien Campbell

"Hide and Seek" - Lorien Campbell

River, wind, whispers in stones; decay in naked,
Bulbous lilacs. Skirts and pants leap, released
From concrete walls, unchained from desks, pencils
Stab their palms.
Laughter runs on bare feet through thorny cracks.

Weeds higher than beanstalks twist to heaven.
Eyes infested with butterflies, woodlice,
And desiccated crabs—in the muddy river dolls’ heads
Bob like nests of snails.
River, wind, whispers, stones; decay in naked, bulbous lilacs.

Why they come here is unknown, even
To the women in skirts and flats. Getting stuck in mud
Full of moss. Ripping socks. Spiders’ claws flail.
Twigs stab their palms.
Laughter runs on bare feet through thorny cracks.

Joan, Jill, Jen, drowned last year. Faces floating
Under sun and rain. Shadows pass.
No one knows what promises lured them too far
From shrill voices calling names.
River. Wind. whisper the stones. Naked, bulbous lilacs.

Blood, a yell, a splash. Water rises, ripples dance.
Slender backs pecked by red-beaked crows, searching
Spanish moss filled with tiny bones.
Laughter runs on bare feet through thorny cracks.

School-bells toll broken-tongued. Wracked
Teachers count, recount, mouths clenched
Against mathematic rules, (one plus two).
Rosters stab their palms.
Laughter runs on bare feet through thorny cracks.
River. Wind. Whispers in stone. Decay in naked, bilious lilacs.

First-time reader Lorien Campbell performed "Hide and Seek" at Word of Mouth open mic on May 7, 2014. The image above is "Elegy for Moss Land" [1940]by Clarence John Laughlin.

"Communique #44" - Peleg Held

"Communique #44" - Peleg Held

The blackbirds slip away.
They squeeze back into the unlightable.
A stuttering memory shivers the branch
winding from heart to throat.

Dark plumes, the timbre of your voice,
lost in the thicket, in the womb.
The Booth home for unwed mothers
in a Lyndon Johnson June.

You are still seventeen.
Your lock-pick echo teases from outside.
And I am bending wrist and soul to touch you through the bars.

I wait on the opening of files,
for a stark word or two paroled home, grey and weightless.
I fashion beads to count by
from downy barb and broken quill—
but bits of feather cannot ride the abacus wires.

And I am bending wrist and soul to touch you through the bars.

Soon I will leave this city of night.
I have dug the earth from beneath its promises
and my nose runs with its black soot, even in sleep.
But feeling is returning to my fingertips,
and light rises on the east wall.

Hollow bones and a passing winter.
Empty wires and the parting scars.
Dark plumed songs in the tunnels beneath me.

And I am bending wrist and soul to touch you through the bars.

PELEG HELD was a frequent reader at Word of Mouth from 2010-2012 who now lives in the northeast United States.  He lived in a commune for twenty years and is a former member of the human rights group Voices in the Wilderness. The art is a lithograph by Brion Gysin titled "Guerilla Conditions."

"The Voice of the River" - Perry Barlow

"The Voice of the River" - Perry Barlow

From my bank stands a tree
that's one friend you left me
you tore the rest out
stacked sticks of steel
engineered a railway bridge
sent some poor fool 
to paint a picture of it
and called me conquered
assumed me simple then

when used to be 
you came to me
with buckets
the companion
of your daily breath
and the opposite too
strong men
were drowned in my currents
just trying to cross my body
your homes
were swallowed in my floods
your heads 
were dipped in my still waters
and when you emerged
you turned your faces to the sky
and declared yourselves saved
and now you don't even look at me
your high expressway hums above me
from one empty bank to the other
but that road can't sing 
not like me
my current still rippling along the bank
is beneath the earth
and the foundation of all things
Listen to me:
the bricks do not separate
so much from my mud
the land changes over generations
as the dead are stacked
upon the dead and buried
upon the dead and buried
upon the dead
and finally
softly drawn out to sea

so that old bridge
suspicious with arms folded
day and night rolling
with freight of iron and steel
and plastic
so fast
but the bolts have rusted in their holes
and all that has been raised
will crumble and fade
and you will roll yourselves in dry leaves
and return longing to my banks
and sing psalms
but for now,
speed on
I am old and I am slow
I can wait.

(Photo: The railroad bridge from Del Rio to Sanderson on the Pecos River, Texas 1881)

"Flags in the Un-Snoped Bear Dust" - David Oates

"Flags in the Un-Snoped Bear Dust" - David Oates
            That proud, unvarnished head lying like a flag in the dust, though not yet realizing what he should have known before he came into the wisteria-ed sunporch among the poor old Negroes looking from their dark, silent, ever malleable, never bending strength of servitude (and then the rest--all of it at once as though someone had turned on the tap in the horseyard and the water, cold, clear, rushing hard but not yet frozen in that deep well, cracked the ice on the trough as the mule watched in skeptical amazement), nor even stopping to think, but just falling and groping and trying to fly like some bright comet in autumn, and that not really it either--wait, wait!--but like that--but wait a minute--unique in its extreme of the old rebel colonel great-grandfather doing foolish and wonderful things at Antietam with his trousers unbuttoned, or even as his children fade into brick-box suburban barbecue rotisseries, distinctive not even then, rushing, galloping, sliding, across that incredible and unincompassable distance before the consummation of the sentence.
(2013 photo by Michelle Castleberry)

"Little Bird" - Rob White

"Little Bird" - Rob White

Little Bird
Little Bird hops up and wants a French fry.
I don't know you. You don't know me. I want your food now anyway.
But I wasn't done, I say
Little Bird
Little Bird don't give a crap
Little Bird says, "Give me that!"

Party at my place
Pretty little bird there
Hopped up to me and wanted a kiss
She doesn't know me. I don't know her. She wants a kiss now anyway.
But my girlfriend is right over there, I say
Little Bird don't give a crap.
Little Bird says, "Give me that!"

Client calls me up
In the wee hours
Says, "sqwak!" in my ears followed by, "now!"
But this isn't in the contract, client bird, I say.
Click. Hang up. Gone away.
Little Bird don't give a crap.
Little bird says, "Give me that!"

Old lady backs into me in a parking lot
Gets out and sqwaks, "You! Your fault! Your fault!"
But you backed into me, I say
Cops show up. Believe old lady, make me pay
Sorry son, you were too close
That's right! Old lady bird sqwaks
Little Bird don't give a crap
Little bird says, "Give me that!"

Little Bird hops up to me
French fry, now, it cheeps!
Fine. Take it. I was done.
Toss the fry. Watch him catch.
Two hops and then another bird interrupts
Fry! Now! Second bird says, then steals the bite and flies away
'Cause Little Bird don't give a crap
Little Bird says, "Give me that!"

Easy lesson here to see
Played out by birds in front of me
Don't demand or steal, it's true
Lest someone take your fry from you

"I Met Ozzy Osbourne Last Night" - Kayla Sargeson



    I know I should lock the door, but

    I’m not afraid,

    not since I saw my stepdad

    choke my sister one Christmas

    (I really couldn’t breathe, she said later,

    I thought I was going to die)

    while our mother, drunk, watched.

    Sixteen, I knew nothing about

    how love and need can meet

    and turn a mother into a dust

    drunk by eight pm,

    no exceptions.

    I open my apartment door to find

    Ozzy sitting on the floor of my four-room apartment

    holding a ball of yarn over the head

    of my cat.

    I named my cat Ozzy after him

    because I wish we were blood,

    that our family trees shared

    acid tripping, bat biting, pot smoking

    ancestors. And I’m spinning

    from the beer I drank with my friend Louis

    before I discovered in my apartment

    the Prince of Fucking Darkness,

    the man who sang me to sleep over my teenage

    Wal-Mart stereo while my mom and stepdad

    fucked across the hall.

Kayla Sargeson is the featured reader tonight at Word of Mouth, 8 pm upstairs at The Globe.