On Walt Whitman


On Broadway last night we passed a man, older and bearded, wearing a broad-rimmed hat. We felt his eyes on our back and then — more alarmingly — a hand on our elbow. But the grip seemed far more imploring than threatening, and so we did not protest as he guided us toward the nearby doorway of an abandoned storefront, out of sight of the drug dealers who populate the street at this hour. We turned to him as he spoke: “Stranger,” he said, “if you passing meet me and desire to speak to me, why should you not speak to me? And why should I not speak to you?”

We considered this and examined him more closely; let it be said that he was not unattractive to our sensibilities, although we were not entirely pleased by the way his hand now rested upon his hip, in the manner of a scold. “It must be hard to have lived for so long,” we finally responded, casting a glance at the eddies of newspaper and plastic lids that swirled past us, “and in such interminable squalor.”


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