Walt Whitman in 1989
Walt Whitman has come down
today to the hospital room;
he rocks back and forth in the crisis;
he says it’s good we haven’t lost
our closeness, and cries
as each one is taken.
He has written many lines
about these years: the disfigurement
of young men and the wars
of hard tongues and closed minds.
The body in pain will bear such nobility,
but words have the edge
of poison when spoken bitterly.
Now he takes a dying man
in his arms and tells him
how deeply flows the River
that takes the old man and his friends
this evening. It is the River
of dusk and lamentation.
“Flow,” Walt says, “dear River,
I will carry this young man
to your bank. I’ll put him myself
on one of your strong, flat boats,
and we’ll sail together all the way
Feb. 28, 1989, Orangeburg, NY
Perry Brass is the author of The Manly Pursuit of Desire and Love (Belhue Press, 2015), King of Angels (Belhue Press, 2012), How to Survive Your Own Gay Life (Belhue Press, 1998), The Manly Art of Seduction (Belhue Press, 1998) and many others. In 1969, he co-edited the newspaper Come Out!, the first publication of the post-Stonewall gay liberation movement, published by the Gay Liberation Front in New York City. In 1972, he co-founded the Gay Men’s Health Project Clinic, the forerunner of the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center. He is a founding coordinator of the Rainbow Book Fair, an annual LGBTQ book fair and literary conference in New York City.
For more information, visit www.perrybrass.com.
This poem originated as part of All The Way Through Evening, a song cycle written by Chris DeBlasio and first performed in 1990, and was subsequently included in The AIDS Quilt Songbook, an ongoing collaborative project.