Dear Walt Whitman, on your 200th Birthday, some words back atcha:
I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
… 200 years old and as alive today — your atoms and your words still among us — as when, in your body, you lived and loved. Thank you for the many times you have led me to recognize joy in this life, the words you paint on the canvas of visceral connection to Everything, your spirit transcending time, across generations. Today I will close my eyes, take a ride on the Brooklyn Ferry and give you a hug.
beauty is a shell
from the sea
where she rules triumphant
till love has had its way with her
sculptured to the
tune of retreating waves
the ear and the eye lie
down together in the same bed
— William Carlos Williams
Vanessa Hidary is one of my faves amongst the poets who appeared in the six seasons of Russ Simmons’ Def Poetry series on HBO.
This performance is especially deep for me, because I have been that girl on that barstool, I have been told many times “gee, you don’t look Jewish” and remained silent (or, worse, took it as a damned compliment). On the other hand, I have been known to let people go on and on about “this Jewish bastard” or about “the Kyke landlord” or about “the Jewish conspiracy that owns all the world’s stocks and plots to limit my access to the pharmaceuticals I need” (yes, that is an actual meme out there) … let them go on and on until they have taken all the rope they need to hang themselves, and then stood up and before leaving the table have let them know THEY WERE TALKING TO ONE.
But I have not done the whole trip that Hidary has done (at a much younger age). I never fully processed the shit I’ve sat and listened to that people felt safe to say in front of me because I “don’t look Jewish” (odd, also, because I think I do “look Jewish”) …
Thanks, Vanessa, for crossing the desert for me and bringing this back with you:
I have had this poem pinned to my wall or laying around ever since i bought my first electric typewriter and typed it out on an index card.
And I always thought
And I always thought: the very simplest words
Must be enough
When I say what things are like
Everyone’s heart must be torn to shreds.
That you’ll go down if you don’t stand up for yourself
Surely you see that.
Bertolt Brecht, 1956
Translated by Michael Hamburger