Walt Whitman Speaks Out on Behalf of Dead Poets Regarding Appropriate Memorials
Opened in 1957, the Walt Whitman Bridge spans the Delaware River from Pennsylvania to New Jersey & is located near the city of Camden where Whitman lived.
We do not want to be a bridge, road
or interstate rest stop,
to be remembered
by impatient bottlenecks of cars
or roadside memorials of trash.
Who thought it an honor
to have rebar, cement & asphalt
be the metaphor for our lives?
We are not made by man,
We are made by chance,
our materials fugitive, unstable
What hubris to pretend otherwise.
Let our names instead be given
to clouds, or better, to the rain
that falls from them, reviving
our roads’ verges & median strips,
washing humanity’s windshields clean.
Night’s come early, settled in like a roosting bird
fluffed against the cold.
Outside my window, snow has replaced the known world
with a simpler version of itself
while inside, the fireplace sparks and glows,
reducing logs to chunks of red-hot cinder
so bright it hurts. I am alone,
listening to the fire spit and sizzle as it performs
its incendiary miracle, converting matter
to light. Why am I so far from what I seek?
Why is it so hard to still this yearning?
I’m not the only one. We all burn,
trying to return to our origin, even the stars,
far above this small house
tucked in the corner of this tidy neighborhood
on the outskirts of this snow-stilled town.
Their burning reaches me across the frozen
distances, long after they’ve gone.
It’s grey outside
and somewhere a lawn mower
is making its rounds
over the last stubborn
blades of grass.
Such a bland cottony grey.
Not ash or charcoal
but something in between—
the color of never quite being
what you’re supposed to be.
Unlike the sycamore in the yard
whose purpose is clear.
Come fall, it seals off the vessels
joining leaf to twig and frees itself
of its summer residue
to stand bare boned
and braced for winter.
I want to be as decisive as that
as guilt free in my leafing and cleaving.
But choices make things grey—
as grey as this muted sky
above the single-minded drone
of the lawn mower, doing exactly
what it’s meant to do.
Deidra Greenleaf Allan has been published in American Poetry Review, Poetry Miscellany, Puerto del Sol, West Branch, and Quartet Journal, among other print and online journals. In 2001, she was selected as Montgomery County (PA) Poet Laureate by Robert Hass. She has received a Leeway Emerging Artist Award and was a finalist for a Pew Fellowship in poetry. One of her poems was selected in 2012 by Musehouse for its Poem of Hope poster.